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Food security: Go for alternative crops, expert urges farmers

By Standard Reporter | Published Mon, August 28th 2017 at 15:20, Updated August 28th 2017 at 15:36 GMT +3

NAIROBI, KENYA: Farmers are being urged to look beyond the traditional crops such as maize and beans if they are to better their earnings, an expert has said.

Shem Odhiambo who is the country director of the Export Trading Group, a farm inputs supplier multinational, says that gone are the days when farmers would rely on one crop variety as a revenue source.

"The demands for different crops keep shifting. This means that even the incomes that would be realised shift in tandem with the crop demands; the higher the demand, the higher the revenues," says Mr Odhiambo.

He cites the case where consumption of pulses has shot up globally due to the changing dietary needs and individual preferences. "People are consuming less of meat but they would want to get the same quantity of proteins from alternative sources, in this case pulses such as soy, pigeon peas, red lentils, white kidney beans, among others," he observes.

Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency specialised in defeating hunger, says that pulses consumption has been on a steady rise, and the existing number of farmers cannot match the increased market demands.

"In these cases, countries have been forced to import pulses, which explains why international trade in pulses has grown much more rapidly than production," observes FAO.

Odhiambo argues that this trend is expected to continue as production of pulses lags behind trade. In India and China, for instance, the consequences of this imbalance are already manifesting. 

China recently transitioned from net-exporter to net-importer of pulses, and India—the world’s largest producer and importer of pulses—is experiencing massive price hikes in pulses after a series of poor harvests.

"Because of Kenya's good soils and favourable weather, ETG has laid an ambitious plan that will see farmers cultivate more of pulses not only for local consumption but also for exports," Mr Odhiambo said in an interview.

Through raising awareness about these "lucrative" crops, encourage new research and development, ETG expects millions of farmers would be economically empowered in a decade. 

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