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Wheat farmers embrace high-yielding varieties to meet rising demand

A wheat field at Olmaisor farm in Rumuruti, Laikipia county. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Francis Kiptalam enjoyed driving his tractor as he inspected his wheat farm in Uasin Gishu County, located in Kenya's Rift Valley region.

The 63-year-old father of three has devoted ten hectares, or a fifth of his land holdings, to growing wheat, which is Kenya's second most important cereal crop. He said he cultivated wheat in April just in time to take advantage of the long rains.

Kiptalam told Xinhua during a recent interview that he planted the Kenya Wren wheat variety that he obtained from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), a premier agricultural research body.

In order to address constraints to local wheat production, KALRO has developed wheat varieties that promise high yields and are also tolerant to drought, diseases and insect pests.

"I have switched from the conventional wheat variety and adopted the high-yielding variety in order to improve my yields," Kiptalam said.

With the Kenya Wren wheat variety, Kiptalam hopes to harvest at least eight metric tons per hectare as compared to four metric tons with conventional ones.

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that local farmers produce about 350,000 metric tons of wheat annually against an annual consumption of 900,000 metric tons.

The country imports from Russia and Ukraine to address the shortfall in domestic production.

Anthony Kioko, CEO of Cereal Growers Association (CGA), said that local farmers are unable to compete with imported wheat because of their high cost of production. Now the country is encouraging farmers to embrace new wheat varieties with high yields.

He noted that Kenya's dietary habits are changing as the level of urbanization increases and this has resulted in a gradual shift from maize to wheat consumption.

Desmond Lemayian is a seasoned wheat farmer based in the south-western Kenyan county of Narok. The 49-year-old farmer has put 20 hectares of his land under the cereal crop.

Lemayian said that in May he cultivated the high-yielding Sunbird wheat variety that he purchased from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).

The sunbird variety also produces wheat ideal for commercial baking and is therefore prized by flour millers.

Lemayian hopes to harvest at least seven metric tons of wheat per hectare as compared to three metric tons he usually obtains by using the local wheat variety.

Kioko, the CEO of Cereal Growers Association, said that with the right government support, Kenya can be self-sufficient in wheat production because it has adequate land and human resources to attain the goal. 

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