Sugarcane growers in Western Kenya are adopting new technology with the potential of boosting the availability of quality seeds.
The farmers are using scooped eye buds from sugarcane as starter material for seed production, a method referred to as bud chip technology.
A farmer requires a chipping tool to safely remove out the eye buds, which are raised in a nursery where it is easier to conduct grading and sample out high-quality seedlings.
The bud chip technology, popular in India was first introduced in Kakamega County Agriculture Sustainable Research Initiative (Agsri) in 2015 in collaboration with the management of West Kenya Sugar factory.
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John Okoti, a farmer from Mung’ang’a in Mumias East has been developing sugarcane seedlings through bud chip methods for a couple of years.
“I was one of the workers at West Kenya who underwent a thorough training on how to use it as a potential technology for sugarcane production,” Okoti told The Standard.
He used to work in the sugar development section at the Kakamega North based sugar firm. “We were trained by experts from India; the technology is viable and could be a game-changer in the local sugar sector.”
On a good day, Okoti can scoop out over 7,000 bud chips from sugarcane then raise them in a nursery before selling them to sugarcane farmers.
The crop he planted in 2015 using the bud technology was harvested on Tuesday, the sixth harvest according to him.
He will scoop out the eye buds before the harvested cane can be ferried to the factory for crushing.
He says a farmer would need 5, 100 developed cane eye buds to plant an acre parcel.
According to Okoti, the technology guarantees a farmer maximum profit because the cane is sold to the factory even after the eye buds have been removed.
Okoti sells 5, 100 stems of the seedlings at Sh25, 000 but ensures the buyer has been trained properly on the management of the crop right from the day it is planted to harvesting.
“It is cheap compared to the conventional method where a farmer would plant the cuttings that would have otherwise earned him money.”
“Besides a farmer would require at least 4 tonnes of seed cane to plant one-acre-parcel on top of exorbitant costs to transport it, the interest charged by the factories and Value Added tax.”
Kenya National Sugarcane Farmers Federation has welcomed the technology, which could guarantee factories in the region availability of raw materials.
“Sometimes, the seed cane our farmers are sold is of poor quality leading to low yields,” said the federation deputy secretary - General Simon Wesechere.
Mr Wesechere cited KEN 83-737, CO617, D 844, CO945, and N 14 as some of the seed cane that are slow in maturing and susceptible to disease infections.
"The technology could cut down the cost of developing sugarcane on a one-acre parcel from Sh60, 000 to a manageable figure," argues Wesechere.
However, Wesechere warns farmers against going for bud chips from the crop that is not certified.
"The cane eye buds must be sourced from certified cane seed to ensure increased production and prevent cases of spreading sugarcane diseases."
Earlier, the county government indicated it would launch a pilot on the project in the expansive Mumias sugar zone where the technology has been well received by sugarcane farmers.
Kassim Were, the County Executive for Trade who toured Okoti’s farm said they would invest in the project to enhance the propagation of cane seedlings.
“We shall buy him necessary machines and other items including the special trays where the bud chips would be raised in large quantities before it can be distributed to farmers,” said Mr. Were.