James Yoko, 45, has experienced firsthand the challenges faced by maize farmers.
However, unlike others who have abandoned the crop, he is still optimistic that he’ll be a successful farmer.
Yoko says the unpredictable weather patterns hampered the yields in his 28-acre piece of land.
He says he ventured into maize farming in 2003 with only Sh8, 000 as start-up capital. He earns Sh300,000 on average from the crop every planting season.
“The poor soil fertility and diseases have affected maize production. I see a brighter future in maize farming with the implementation of the Kimira-Oluch irrigation scheme in Rangwe, Homa Bay and parts of Rachunyo North sub counties,” says the farmer from Abiri village in Rangwe constituency.
Last season, he harvested about 165 sacks of dry maize, which earned him Sh350,000. A bag of maize was selling as low as Sh2,200. “I’ve started attending agricultural training seminars both in and outside the county to gain more skills and technical know-how on improved farming,” he says.
He says agricultural extension officers have introduced him to the use of hybrid certified seeds.
“I’ve realised that the secret to good yields in maize production involves timely sowing, proper spacing when sowing, use of certified seeds, applying right quantity of fertilisers and weeding on time,” Yoko says, adding that farmers should plant at the right time in order to get high yields.
“They should also adopt the use of certified seeds and apply approved quantities of fertiliser to ensure better harvests,” he says.
He is one of the farmers who have benefited from the county’s subsidised fertilisers. He however notes there are many other challenges facing maize farmers in the area.
“Access to markets is a great challenge. Sometimes I’m forced to sell at throwaway prices because of lack of market... Readily available markets will enable farmers to sell their produce and offset their loans. The only cereal storage facility in Homa Bay town has inadequate capacity,” he says.
Transporting his produce to the market is also a challenge, especially during rainy seasons when most earth roads in the area are impassable. Yoko is appealing to the government of Homa Bay to set up agricultural programmes aimed at improving the county’s food production.
He says if the county can help market their crop, they stand a better chance of increasing their production.
“Through farming I’m able to support my family. Farming has helped me educate my children up to the university,” he adds.
“About 230,000 hectares of land in the county is considered arable and 60 per cent is normally cultivated. Though we grow various crops, maize is the most popular, constituting 24 per cent of the cultivated land. It is grown by more than 85 per cent of the farmers,” said Governor Cyprian Awiti while launching seed distribution in Rangwe sub county.
He said for long, poor farming practices, drought, diseases and declining soil fertility have reduced maize yields.
“The average yield is only five bags per acre against the potential 20 bags per acre.
“The annual average production of maize is estimated at 61,000 metric tonnes or 678 bags against annual consumption of 91,420 metric tonnes or one million bags,” Awiti added.
The governor said Homa Bay is still a net importer of food crops and livestock products hence there is an urgent need to address the situation.
Awiti said his government is constructing post harvest handling cereals store in each of the eight sub counties to reduce post-harvest losses.
“Besides providing our farmers with quality certified seeds and fertilisers for production, we train them on good farming practices through model farming approach.
“Farmers are encouraged to join value chain specific cooperatives to facilitate ease of marketing and production,” he says.