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ILRI forages to the fore: ILRI talks ‘Napier’ (aka elephant grass) at KARI scientific exhibition in Nairobi

Story by Alexandra Jorge

13th Biennial Scientific Conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi

Alexandra Jorge, the ILRI genebank manager, with a visitor at the the ILRI stand at KARI in Nairobi on 22 Oct 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Last week (22–24 Oct 2012), I participated in an exhibition, which was organized alongside the 13th Biennial Scientific Conference of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in Nairobi. I represented the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in a booth ILRI created to explain to KARI’s visitors what research ILRI undertakes with KARI on livestock forages.I really liked the opportunity to meet with so many Kenyan farmers (many KARI staff that stopped by the ILRI tent are also farmers); some of whom were Maasai livestock herders, some were dressed in a tie and suit, many were women. It was great to be able to connect with the users and clients of my research, and to do so in such an informal and lively environment.

What people want to know from ILRI?

  • What and how to produce forage for dairy cows and goats stall-fed under zero-grazing systems
  • How to make use of local resources to produce rations/formulas for pigs in Kenya
  • How to grow forages in screen-houses
  • How to grow fodder using hydroponics
  • Where to obtain improved breeds of dairy cows (to produce at least 20 litres of milk daily)
  • Where to obtain information about dairy goat breeds, housing, feeds and markets
  • Where to obtain information about improved breeding methods (semen, embryo transfer) and animal nutrition issues
  • Where to obtain information about climate change and small-scale livestock production, including mechanisms for better coping with, and adapting to, climate change
  • How to improve access to markets for green grams, cowpeas and dolichos
  • How to obtain information about small livestock and indigenous chickens in Kenya

Some facts about our exhibition booth:

  • ILRI’s booth, which was decorated with many African artifacts, attracted some visitors who wanted to have a closer look at the artifacts rather than to hear about ILRI’s fodder science.
  • Some illiterate women famers were still keen to collect written materials, which they would probably ask their children to read to them (we never know where our printed materials will end up, who will read them, who they will inspire!).
  • When we choose livestock pictures with which to illustrate our publications, we should be prepared to explain to our readers how they can get hold of such types of livestock. ILRI’s corporate annual report, which we were giving away, has a handsome chicken on the cover, and I could not answer people who asked where they could get such a local chicken.
Traditional Kamba baskets for sale at KARI event

Display at the 13th Biennial Scientific Conference and Exhibition at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Oct 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

In visiting the many other exhibits, I was amazed to see the variety of interesting and innovative work KARI and Kenyan universities are doing with partners (many non-governmental organizations and international institutes and organizations). It was really good and innovative stuff!
Some highlights (from my point of view) about the exhibition:

  • Feeding goats with leaves collected from local bushes and dried obviates the need to cut down whole forage plants, and thus helps to preserve the ecosystem.
  • Sausages made from sorghum taste just like meat!
  • Attractive and good-tasting cakes can be made with sweet potato flour, rice flour, Amaranthus flour and sorghum flour.
  • Mini popcorn can be made from Amaranthus seeds.
  • Several Kenyan seed companies are starting to fill a critical gap in the country by producing forages seeds from pigeon pea and grasses.
  • The Kenyan national genebank has several skilled technicians that were trained at ILRI’s Forage Genebank, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • The University of Nairobi has developed beautiful local breeds of chicken, which they displayed along with fertilized eggs that they sold. This is a great way to reach users at any opportunity!

My favorite story:

Alex Mwandawa came to our stand (possibly attracted by our nice baskets!) and told me a story about a job niche he found in Mwatate District, where women were very poor and had few means of making a living. However, many grasses grew in the district that could be used to make baskets, and they did make some baskets, but these were of uneven and relatively poor quality. Mwandawa began to train the women in ways to produce good-quality baskets for export. He found some interested buyers in Denmark (and later on in Japan and South Africa); these became their first export clients. The women (including old women unable to move much) started to produce high-quality baskets. Mwandawa then approached village youth who were neither working nor studying (but often drinking) and showed them how to fashion leather handles and accessories that added value to the baskets the women were making. The youth liked the experience and are now enjoying earning an income. Today, they are heavily involved in the basket making and are expanding their skills. This basket-making enterprise is strongly linked to the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (KAPAP) and meat value chains, which links producers to better markets for higher incomes. I visited their basket stand (email: and and bought some of the traditional, natural dyed, Taita baskets, which, while not cheap, are very beautiful and functional.

So, a nice story of grabbing opportunities and niches! Note that Alex Mwandawa will come to local institutions to participate in other open marketplaces, at ILRI and elsewhere. You can reach him on his cell phones: +254 724-463-791 or +154-737-944-884.

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