State to distribute drought tolerant seeds

By Fredrick Obura and John Oyuke

The Government has intensified efforts to diversify from maize to production of traditional drought tolerant crops in anticipation of a drop in rainfall this year.

Agriculture assistant Minister Gideon Ndambuki, last week launched the distribution of traditional food crop seeds for Arid and Semi Arid Lands (Asal) districts in readiness for planting during the short rains under the EU/World Bank funded project.

Other seeds would be distributed next year during the long rains of March/April next year at a cost of Sh36 million.

"Promotion of drought tolerant traditional food crops is important to the country after an alert on the possibility of depressed rainfall during the short rains as a result of the La Nina effect," he said.

Current forecasts warn of a potentially extreme drought in the region later this year threatening millions of people with starvation.

The Climate Outlook for the "Short Rains" (October-November-December) 2010 season indicates much of the country is likely to experience depressed rainfall.

Director of Meteorological Services Joseph Mukabana, says the expected depressed seasonal rains are associated with the presence of an evolving La NiÒa.

He said the current weak to moderate La NiÒa conditions are forecast to strengthen with time especially towards the end of this year through first quarter next year.

"The distribution of rainfall in time and space is expected to be poor in various parts of the country," Dr Mukabana said in a weather outlook report.

Mr Ndambuki said the country should diversify crop production given the adverse effect of climate change already affecting the country.

Seeds for farmers

He spoke during the launch of the Orphan/Traditional Crop Seeds programme recently.

The Government has set aside seeds valued at Sh116 million for the short rains to be given to farmers in Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori and Murang’a, Nyandarua, Nyeri and Kiambu counties.

Other counties to receive the assorted food crops seeds, cassava cuttings and sweet potatoes vines include Marsabit, Isiolo, Meru, Kitui, Machakos, Tharaka Nithi, Embu and Makueni.

Also set to benefit from traditional seeds crops are districts in Taita Taveta, Tana River, Kilifi, Kwale, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties.

Ndambuki said the World Bank, in collaboration with the European Union, had provided Sh301 million towards the seeds bulking in the current financial year.

The funds will be used to access high quality basic seeds from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), which will be bulked by farmers, farmers’ groups and organisations at farm level.

Unreliable rainfall

The project is also supporting bulking of plantation materials in four agriculture training centres of Bukura, Garissa, Kitui and Wambugu ATCs at Sh20 million.

To mitigate against unreliable rainfall, the project will support the rehabilitation of irrigation systems in several Kari centres of Marimanti, Igoji and Katumani at a cost of Sh52 million.

Crops under the bulking programme include: sweet potatoes, cassava, pigeon-peas, common beans, cow-peas, green grams, Dolicos lablab, chick peas, sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet and maize.

These crops are known to perform well in Asal areas where food insecurity is a common feature due to inadequate rainfall.

Ndambuki asked farmers, who would get the seeds to plant and take care of them especially now that is there is a possibility of reduced rainfall in the course of this year and beyond.

Traditional foods

He also urged Kenyans to embrace consumption of traditional food crops so that they can also ensure a market for these crops.

However, Agriculture PS Romano Kiome, urged farmers to observe best post harvest storage practices to curb incidences of maize contamination.

He said farmers should adopt best practices to store their produce, as the Government might not buy all the maize as expected.

"We would have wished to buy the produce from farmers for better storage at the National Cereals Produce Board but the funds are not flowing from Treasury," said Dr Kiome who accompanied the minister.

He said Treasury was yet to release about Sh12 billion to the Ministry of Special Programme for buying eight million bags of maize across the country, adding, "We will only buy the expected volumes if the treasury speeded up its funding programme towards the process."