Stooped over a large plastic drum at his farm in southwestern Kenya, Josphat Macharia scoops up a handful of dirt and examines the worms writhing in his grip.
Satisfied, he replaces the worms and covers them with a layer of dry grass.
“These are ready for harvesting,” he says.
By that, the father of two means it is time to add water to the container. Doing so causes the earthworms to produce fluid that Macharia will use to fertilize a plot of cabbages.
Prolonged drought and storm-related flooding have combined to erode fertile soils in rural parts of this East African country.
That has forced farmers like Macharia, who struggle with low yields, to seek cost-efficient alternatives to fertilizers in order to improve the soil and boost crop production.
Rearing worms, known as vermiculture, is a simple solution that sees farmers harvest the nutrients from worm waste, said Jemimah Njuki, an agriculture and environment expert in Nairobi with the International Development Research Centre, a Canadian aid agency.
Farmers spread the waste – a darkish, slimy fluid smelling of rotten eggs – just as they would any synthetic fertilizer.
Producing ‘worm juice’, as it is called on Macharia’s farm, can be tedious since it requires checking on the worms to keep them alive. On the other hand it costs nothing, although the worms require some work each day.
“All I need is a handful of earthworms, water, (and) kitchen- and farm-waste to make organic fertilizer for my farm,” said Macharia, a 54-year-old resident of the village of Ndabibi.
To get enough fertilizer for his five-acre plot, Macharia uses five 20-litre drums of worms, and applies the ‘juice’ every couple of days. It is, he said, a perfect solution.
“Even the worms, I collect them from the farm,” he said.
His crops have thrived: lines of tomato plants sag with fruits; maize plants standing six-foot high have a handful of cobs sprouting from their stems; and even the recently sown strawberry plants show promise.
“You can see the crops are very healthy. They have been fed using organic materials,” Macharia said, adding that the success he has had means he no longer uses synthetic fertilizers.
Soil degradation is a major problem, experts say: it affects about 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone, costing them $68 billion a year, according to a 2014 report by Agriculture for Impact.
Climate change, desertification, the depletion of mineral nutrients, improper use of fertilizer and a lack of infrastructure are compounding the problem, the report found.
Vermiculture, on the other hand, boosts soil health, which is paramount for crops to thrive, said Edward Karanja, a researcher at the Nairobi-based International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).
Ben Momanyi, a researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), said vermiculture was becoming more common in central Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley where agriculture is the key economic activity.
JKUAT’s institute of energy and environmental technologies has been selling young worms, which take up to four months to reach maturity, to farmers for 2,500 shillings ($25) per kilogram for the past two years.
“But it is not easy to estimate how many farmers are using the technology since some of them are doing it on a very small scale,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
ICIPE is trialling vermiculture in a pilot project in central Kenya, where it is teaching a group of farmers how to rear worms and use their waste to fertilize their farms.
Karanja said the vegetative part of the plant requires nitrogen in order to grow, while phosphorous helps in the formation of roots and the crop’s structure.
“Worm juice is rich in these ingredients,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
For farmers like Macharia, synthetic fertilizers are also costly and – apart from the risk to humans, animals and the environment – they harden the soil, experts say. That affects yields as it hinders plants’ ability to access nutrients.
Perhaps most importantly for subsistence farmers like Macharia, worm juice comes worry-free.
“When I apply the worm juice in the morning, I can pick my vegetables in the evening and prepare a meal with the greens without worrying about getting sick,” he said, referring to his concerns over exposure to synthetic fertilizers.
Macharia noted that vermiculture is popular in countries like the United States, which is where he stumbled across the technique while on a study trip to learn about farming without fertilizers.
Embracing organic farming at home would ensure long-term soil health and help to protect the environment, he said.
“When the environment is safe, the food we eat is safe and everybody will be healthy,” said Macharia.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
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.
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.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
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
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
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.
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.
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.