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Steps to becoming an organic grower

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By BRIAN MOKE OGARO
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By MARTIN NJOROGE
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Today’s consumers are conscious not only of what they eat but also how it has been grown.

With reports that most produce contains impurities because of the way it is grown, there has never been an opportune time to practice organic farming.

While most farmers desire to go organic, many are not prepared to start as they consider the whole experience a little daunting.

To shift to organic farming, there is usually a transition period of 36 months prior to harvesting the first crop that can be labelled as organic.

The period is meant to allow the farm to adjust from the heavy use of synthetic chemicals, to building an ecosystem sufficient enough to support itself.

Transitioning from conventional to organic farming requires changes, the most important one being the farmer’s mind-set.

Full transition: Here, all livestock and land are transitioned at once. Basically, one dives head first into organic farming.

Gradual transition: One transits one field at a time, with the intention being certifying all the livestock and land.

Immediate transition: Here, a farmer certifies livestock and land with minimal or no transition period. This usually fits land that has not been actively farmed for three or more years.

Split transition: Part of the land is conventional and another organic as a long-term strategy. It is often combined with “gradual” transition strategy but the intent being to simultaneously maintain both organic and conventional land.

Farmers transitioning generally spend too much time worrying about replacing synthetic input with organic product instead of considering management practices based on preventive strategies.

For smooth transitioning, consider technical production information. These include record-keeping, organic production and handling system plan, soil fertility and crop nutrient management practices, crop rotation practice standard, crop pest, weed, and disease management practices.

During the 36 months, the land recovers and re-adjusts from the heavy use of synthetic chemicals that it may have absorbed hence restoring the soil microbial activities.

The transition period provides the farmer with time to try and work out what the farm can grow better and what different rotation programmes would better suit the land for its maximum production

The transition period helps the farmer to properly plan and predict the average cost he may need for operations over time.

Tips for successful transition

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Plan for your transition: The plan must clearly identify various steps to be taken in making the transition to organic and it should have realistic time frames.

Look at your farm’s strengths and weaknesses and consider ways to improve the later, while building on strengths.

During the early part of the transitional period, yields are often depressed and premium prices for certified organic products are generally not obtainable.

Take that into consideration while doing your plan.

Understand organic farming basics and standards: The organic system is a holistic way of farming that relies on sound practices focused on preventive strategies.

As a new organic producer, you must understand the “organic standard” and know what is allowed and/or prohibited. You must become familiar with sound and sustainable agricultural practices.

Otherwise, if one fails to meet the requirements, the transitional period could be lengthened and certification delayed since these standards are the ones that guarantee product integrity to the consumer.

Ensure proper soil management: Soils are considered the heart of organic farming. Thus, having a healthy and vibrant soil is one foot into a successful organic farming venture.

Fields with good drainage, good level of fertility and organic matter, adequate pH, biological health, high legume content, and with less weed and pest pressure, are excellent assets.

Also, under the organic production system, farmers must be able to recycle nutrients through proper management practices like use of manure and compost, crop rotation, use of cover crop, and ensure reduced nutrient losses due to leaching or over-fertilisation.

Proper record-keeping: Record-keeping is one of the most important requirements to maintain organic integrity. As a farmer, you are expected to keep detailed production, processing and marketing information.

This information includes everything that enters and exits the farm. This is because third party, independent certifiers often require documentation when inspecting the farm operation.

Transitioning to organic is going to be a little challenging especially during the first year due to suppressed yields and sometimes frequent occurrence of pests and diseases.

But the good bit is that the period after transition is followed by yields higher than even in the conventional system.

This transition effect is usually attributed to the required time for change in chemical, physical and biological properties of the soil that are necessary to enhance nutrient cycling, plant growth and development of biological pest control within the system.

Njoroge works for Ecological Organic Agriculture (EOA) Project at Egerton University while Moke runs the blog theorganicguy.com



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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