•Kenya is in the grip of drought but smart farming with drought-resistant indigenous crops could be much of the answer answer.
• Small-scale farmers from Murang'a, Nyeri, Kiambu and Machakos have been organising meetings to exchange ideas on best farming practices,
As the country grapples with drought, hundreds of small-scale farmers are growing organic, indigenous crops to mitigate against food insecurity.
The small-scale farmers from Murang’a, Nyeri, Kiambu and Machakos counties have been organising platforms where they exchange ideas on best organic farming practices.
Among the challenges they face are punitive policies, such as the Seed and Plant Varieties Act 326 of 2012, which prohibits the sale, exchange and sharing of indigenous seeds in Kenya.
Those who violate the law faced a jail term of as long as two years or a fine of as much as Sh1 million or both.
The farmers use their meetings to devise ways of dealing with rodents that destroy cereals in their stores, and monkeys that invade farms.
They now want the government to support organic farming, saying it has the capacity to address the issue of food shortages in the country.
They said easy access to materials that support organic farming would encourage more farmers to engage in practices they said produce healthier food.
In Gatuanyaga, Thika, in Kiambu county farmers congregated in one of the available seed banks for indigenous crops for training on how to produce their own seeds.
The seed bank has more than 500 indigenous seed varieties sourced from all parts of the country for preservation.
The bank is run by Grow Bio-Intensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya (Gbiack), a non-governmental organisation that promotes bio-intensive farming practices.
Monica Wayua from Ithanga village in Gatanga, Murang’a, said the government should come up with measures to support organic farming by drafting laws that are friendly and promote indigenous seed banks at community levels.
She said indigenous crops do far better with erratic rains and are cheaper to take care of compared to conventional ones.
Kallen Nekesa from Trans Nzoia said she has been recording perennial losses after planting hybrid maize.
“We are challenging the government to support agricultural practices that are safe and have wider markets with more Kenyans turning to indigenous foods,” she said.
In most urban centres, many eateries that provide indigenous foods have been mushrooming as more people seek to adopt better eating habits.
Nekesa said overuse of chemicals and conventional fertilisers are to blame for the low production of staple foods such as maize, underscoring the need for more farmers to adopt organic farming methods.
She said with soils being highly acid, an acre currently produces less than 20 bags but has the capacity to produce between 45 and 55 bags through organic farming.
Victor Mumo from Yatta constituency urged the government to take up preservation of indigenous seeds as part of its national heritage.
Mumo said with global climate change, the state should help farmers produce their own food despite the unreliable rains.
He said sometimes the seeds available in agrovets are of poor quality and end up giving poor harvests.
Gbiack executive director Samuel Ndiritu, an expert in indigenous seeds, said farmers make up more than 80 per cent of the population, with majority being smallholders.
He said most lack sufficient knowledge on how to grow foods in their small farms.
Ndiritu said his organisation has been training farmers on healthy and affordable farming practices.
“Lack of food is not a technical problem but a political one with the main challenge being that multinational companies want to make profits out of smallholder farmers,” he said.
“Empowering farmers is one way of ensuring they know what food to grow using what is within their reach without other forces imposing on what they do,” he added.
He said farmers should be ‘food sovereign’ in that they can grow the crop they want using the seeds they want.
He further praised Open Pollinated Varieties (OPV) of maize that he said are superior to hybrid maize.
OPV produces seed that is true to type if they are allowed to cross-pollinate with other plants of the same variety while hybrid varieties are those produced from the crossing pollination of two different inbred lines.
“If you plan one acre of OPV maize and it gives 20 bags, the seeds you get from the crop will give you 20 bags in the next season,” he said.
With OPVs, farmers save money because they don’t have to buy seeds and it ensure they plant anytime they want as they are available.
OPVs, he added, produce far more harvests than their hybrid competitors especially with the shortage of rains.
“We are encouraging farmers to go back to the original seeds. That way, they will eat healthy food and get more returns,” he said.
There are numerous seed banks in the country as communities awaken to the need to preserve seeds but they need support from the government in capacity building and facilitation of better preservation techniques.
“Why can’t we support the farmers to save their own seeds if that is what they want? If a farmer is able to buy from an agrovet then that’s ok but those that want seed banks should be supported to manage them”.
He called for a partnership between organisations doing seed works and the government saying they are helping to conserve seeds that would otherwise go extinct but are very nutritious.
The farmers also called on the government to control the conversion of agricultural land into real estate that further aggravates food security.
(Editd by V. Graham)