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January 18, 2019

Farmer ignorance on seed variety blamed for poor yields

All-Farmers queuing to wait for seeds at the Kenya Seed Company depot in Eldoret on March 13,215. Photo/file
All-Farmers queuing to wait for seeds at the Kenya Seed Company depot in Eldoret on March 13,215. Photo/file

James Wasike, a maize farmer in Simatwet, Trans Nzoia County has already prepared his farm ready for planting and recently bought ‘hybrid’ seeds from a hawker at nearby Moi’s Bridge town.

He is happy he managed to buy a kilo at Sh10 less compared to the previous season. Three kilos will be enough for his land although he doesn’t know the kind of hybrid maize he bought.

Wasike represents thousands of smallholder farmers who will be planting wrong seed varieties this season due to poor sensitisation, despite Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation developing at least 37 maize seed varieties.

KALRO focuses on soils, disease, climatic condition and other factors to ensure suitable varieties that favour specific region to develop the seeds.

Lusike Wasilwa, head of crop systems at KALRO lamented that despite years of research and heavy expenses involved in developing a seed variety amid low funding from the government, farmers continue to recycle poor seeds every planting season, leading to poor yields.

She called on county governments to invest in qualified extension officers to assist smallholder farmers who account for up to 70 per cent of total food produced.

“We need strong extension system, invest in research and close partnership between national and county governments if we dream of realizing the food security agenda as envisaged in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s social economic focus for 2022,’said Lusike

Despite advances in maize seed research in the country, average maize yield is estimated at 0.6 tonnes per acre which is same output of 1960 global average and way below a global average of 1.6 tonnes per acre, this according to Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Average yields for many staple food crops like beans, millets, sorghum, green grams, groundnuts and cowpeas are similarly low, below 0.5 tonnes per acre, contributing to a continuous cycle of poverty and hunger for 75 per cent of farmers in the country.

“Agriculture is Kenya’s mainstay. Less than two per cent of the country budget is set aside for agriculture, way below the 10 per cent arrived at the Maputo declaration. Research is allocated a paltry 0.002 per cent. We will realize no development without research,’’ said Lusike.

Conmen are now riding on farmers’ ignorance, selling fake seed varieties, crippling the country’s production which has remained relatively low against high demand for the past two decades.

Average consumption per person stands at least 103 kilos per year, which is quite high compared to the global average of 92 kgs.

This means we require at least 45.7 million bags per year. Even so, the country is facing a perennial shortfall, producing only 32.3 million bags. Just this week, Ministry of Agriculture data indicated there are only 1.5 million bags to last up to May.

Apart from poor seed choice, little fertiliser and poor control of pest and diseases affect the country’s production.

Kenya Open Data puts fertilizer consumption in Kenya at between 33 to 45 kgs per hectare or an average of 15.6 kilogrammes per acre, way below the recommended 22 kgs of nitrogen per acre.

Last year, Kenya, suffered a new phenomena, the Fall army worm, cutting maize production by 25 per cent.

The state has however set aside Sh300 million to combat this, winning praise from researchers who think the pest can only be defeated through seed innovation.

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