|Farmers are keen to obtain and evaluate new crop varieties.|
By GRACE WEKESA
KAKAMEGA, KENYA: The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) is set to release new maize seed varieties that can withstand challenges posed by climate change.
The new maize seeds, which will eventually phase out the current varieties in the market, will be displayed to farmers on plots at Kakamega High School in June this year.
Dr Sammy Ajanja, who is in charge of the maize development project at Kari Kakamega centre, where the new varieties are being developed by a group of scientists, said the results so far were encouraging.
“We are organising a field day in June this year at Kakamega High School to display the varieties to farmers,” he said.
He said the new varieties are being developed for all ecological zones in Kenya and will also grow in similar zones in Sub-saharan African countries where scientists are working together with their counterparts in Kenya on the project.
The International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement in the Tropics (SIMMYT) is also involved in the project. However, Dr Ajanja said development of the new maize seed varieties will not be a panacea to food insecurity in Africa unless governments encourage and assist farmers to undertake proper agronomic practices that include reducing acidity in soils and preparing and planting their crops in time to reap maximum yields. “Early planting also minimises some diseases that thrive in wet weathers,” Dr Ajanja said.
He said overplanting one type of crop, also known as monoculture, depletes soil nutrients, turning the farm acidic. Dr Ajanja says in such a situation even if you plant high quality seeds, the yield will be minimal.
“Farmers should replenish fertility by leaving maize stalks to rot on their farms instead of giving them to animals,” Dr Ajanja says.
He also advised farmers to practice crop rotation and test their soils regularly to determine the type of fertiliser to use.
He said some fertilisers that are popular with farmers, after being applied in one area for a long time, turn the soils acidic, a situation that is being experienced now in Kenya’s grain-basket regions.
Maize is the staple food in Kenya. Large as well as small-scale farmers produce the crop and a large percentage of the population depends on maize farming as an income-generating crop.
Late last month maize farmers in Trans Nzoia County and its environs warned they were facing shortage of seeds as they started serious planting for this season at the onset of the long rains.
They said the famous HB 6213 maize variety that is commonly planted by farmers in the region had suddenly run out of stock, making many of them resort to other varieties that they are not used to.
“The variety that has been planted by farmers in the area for more than 12 years is no longer available in the stocks of appointed stockists and seed dealers within the region,” they told the media.