Planting for his future

Category: iCow Blog

The final farmer we met on our field visit on July 2nd was Joseph, who has a beautiful one acre farm in Limuru on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. He is 40 and married to Elizabeth, the mother of his 3 children and has 1 in calf heifer, 2 goats and 11 kienyeji chickens. He grows maize, beans, potatoes, vegetables and cattle fodder.

Joseph met us on the roadside and lead us to his plot riding on a boda boda. (motor bike taxi). His land is nestled on the outer edge of his family property and thus as we headed to his house we met his parents and his brother Ishmael.

We started our visit with a briefing on Josephs veranda, where he shared his story about iCow and how he had come to learn about the service through a friend.

Joseph works with one of the largest milk processors in Kenya and is an avid dairy farmer. One of the first things he learned on iCow was that success in dairy farming is about the quality of ones animals, not the quantity. With this in mind, he traded in his 4 poor yielding cows and invested in a young Ayrshire heifer who is now in-calf and due to give birth in October.

In anticipation of her birth and in preparation of her lactation, Joseph has spent great effort in ensuring that his heifer has the best nutrition as well as plenty of feed in the future. Based on information he received from iCow he contacted KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institution) and purchased a wide variety of fodder seeds which he then planted on his one acre piece of land. Keeping in mind the desire to include a diversity of nutrients in his cattle’s’ diet he has planted maize, sorghum, calliandra, purple vetch, desmodium and napier grass!!

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Joseph shows us his healthy sorghum. Notice the border of napier !


Most farmers choose to grow only one or two fodder crops, and thus we were delighted to see such a nutritious variety in his field.

Joseph was not planting blindly. Again due to information received on iCow he had surrounded his maize crop with rows of napier grass and under sown it with desmodium and beans. This system of growing is called ‘Push Pull’ and is a Kenyan biological innovation developed by the researchers at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology ICIPE based just outside Nairobi at Kasarani.

Two of Africas biggest threats to maize production are the maize stalk borer and striga weed. The maize stalk borer caterpillar bores down the center of the maize stalk eventually killing the entire plant, and in fact sometimes the entire crop! Striga weed grows up alongside the maize stalk wrapping its roots around the maize roots, stealing vital nutrients and water and in the process devastating maize yields. By planting borders of napier around maize and desmodium between the maize rows one can prevent both of these problems. The adult moth of the stalk borer is repelled from the maize by the chemical smells from the desmodium and eventually lays her eggs on the more attractive napier plants. When the young stalk borers hatch, they begin to feed on the napier which produces a sticky substance that glues them to the leaves and prevents them from growing. Desmodium also produces chemicals from its roots preventing striga weed from growing and producing a canopy that helps retain moisture in the soil enabling the maize grow better. On top of all those benefits, desmodium is also nitrogen fixing thus improves the soil and is great fodder for livestock!

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Stark contrast betwee Joseph's crops and those of his neighbour!

Josephs’ crops were stunning and distinctly better than the crops in the adjacent fields of neighboring farmers.

He and his wife Elizabeth proudly walked us through their field making sure to show us each and every crop, whilst telling us about their dreams and plans for 2016. Joseph is growing much more feed than his current needs but is doing so for the 4 cows he intends to have next year. In the near future he will ensile his fodder to ensure he has a good stock of quality feed for his livestock. He tells us he plans to retire and become engaged in the diary sector as an entrepreneur trading his own milk and that of his neighors in the near future.

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Elizabeth shows us her beans

Ishmael showed us his bio digester and explained how he shared his bio slurry with Joseph to grow his crops. We checked for potato bactrial wilt on his potatoes and tobacco mosaic virus on his courgettes before sharing tips on how to deal with these diseases in the future. 

josephs brother biogas resized joseph biogas slurry resized

Bio gas digester, bio slurry and healthy beans and sukuma wiki

Then we met Josephs impeccable cow and his chickens before being invited for a much appreciated cup of tea on the veranda.

josephs cow resized 

Healthy Mooo!

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Whilst we drank tea, Joseph made us a package of cacti and rhododendrons for the office!

We look forward to hearing about Josephs entrepreneurial endeavors in the near future!!

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The application came fist in the Apps4Africa competition because of its innovative approach revolutionizing the interaction with small-scale farmers.

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  • Calf illnesses and diseases​

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