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State, donors train sights on traditional crops

By Nicholas Waitathu | April 21st 2015

For a long time, traditional high-value crops, despite their high nutritional value, have been neglected, with little set aside for their research and development.

These ‘orphan crops’, which include cassava and millet, have largely been thought to be outdated and offer little value to the modern Kenyan’s plate of food.

Escalated efforts

But the Government, in partnership with the development community, has escalated efforts to change these perceptions and support a food production diversification strategy through the Traditional High Value Crops Programme (THVCP).

Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the strategy is intended to boost production of drought-tolerant, early maturing seed varieties of high-value crops that require few inputs. These crops include sorghum, millet, beans, green grams, pigeon peas, cow peas, dolichos and open-pollinated maize.

“The programme advocates the growth of adaptable varieties in arid and semi-arid areas (ASALs) of the country where 3.5 million smallholder farmers live,” said Ms Kariuki.

“Consumption of traditional high-value crops has been low as consumers prefer other crops, such as maize, rice, fresh produce and processed foods. But owing to various initiatives and activities implemented by the Government and the donor community, the trend in terms of consumption of orphan crops is changing upward.”

The PS added that there is a growing market for traditional crops, as their high nutritional value gains mass appeal.

For instance, five-star hotels in the country now offer as buffet options traditional foods like cassava, sweet potatoes, arrowroot and yams.

She added that since 2006, THVCP has spent Sh1.4 billion to finance the distribution of 5,781 metric tonnes of assorted drought-tolerant, traditional high-value crop seeds.

“The seeds and planting materials have reached 2.49 million beneficiaries in various sub-counties. Further, 60 commercial villages marketing sorghum, green grams, sweet potatoes, cassava and cow peas have been formed countrywide in collaboration with Farm Concern International,” Kariuki said.

Nutritional security

Johnson Irungu, the ministry’s director of agriculture in charge of crop production, added that the Government is working with counties to fast track initiatives that will encourage farmers to grow these traditional crops.

“Compared to other countries, commercialisation of traditional crops in Kenya is not very developed, and this explains the low consumption levels. However, the current partnership being fast tracked between the national government and counties will change the trend,” he said.

Dr Irungu said under THVCP, which comes to an end next year, farmers receive seeds on a loan basis to ensure households have food and nutritional security, as well as mitigate against climate change.

Kariuki added that the low adoption of traditional high-value crops among Kenyans getting into farming has also affected production levels at local seed companies.

Further, she noted, the seed firms have not invested adequately in research and extension to develop and promote superior varieties that can counter emerging pests and diseases.

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