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Farmers in low rainfall areas turn to traditional seeds

With fluctuating weather in the country, hundreds of farmers are shifting to drought-resistant crops and early maturing varieties in areas that get less than 300 millimeters of rain annually.

In the last 15 years, the number of outlets stocking drought-resistant seedlings is on the rise following the shift by farmers in semi-arid areas.

Climate change caused by factors such as the decimation of forests has been attributed to reduced food production, forcing experts to educate farmers on organic farming.

Many farmers in lower rainfall areas in Mt Kenya region that include Mbeere, Murang’a, Kieni, and most of Laikipia county, have been relying on planting maize that takes between four and five months to mature.

Peter Mwangi from Ithanga ward, Gatanga, said he shifted to fast-maturing crops as his area receives less than 300 millimetres of rain annually, hence inadequate for varieties that take between six and seven months to mature.

Mary Kananu from Umande ward in Laikipia recalls when maize production at her parents' home was impressive yet they used to recycle maize seeds from the previous harvest.

“To date, production is on the decline following overuse of hybrid varieties,” said Kananu.

Murang’a South Agriculture officer John Waihenya said the number of farmers shifting from hybrid to fast-maturing crops in areas receiving less rain is increasing and their production is on the rise.

He said farmers in upper and middle zones where coffee and tea are grown prefer five and six series that do better due to their rainfall patterns of above 300 millimeters.

“Those who prefer the drought-resistant maize seeds harvest approximately 15 bags per acre,” said Waihenya.

But Daniel Wanjama, the CEO at Seed Savers Network NGO based in Gilgil, said they promote the use of traditional seeds for increased maize productivity, avoiding the hybrid varieties.

They promote the use of multi-coloured seeds that survive the drought seasons.

Wanjama said a survey demonstrated that traditional maize planted with manure is safe from the deadly armyworms and other diseases that affect the crops.

He said traditional maize seeds have high production and better nutrition than hybrid varieties.

“In Mexico, the authorities have banned the use of hybrid maize. It emerged that the yellow maize was doing better and also had better nutritional value to our bodies,” said Wanjama.

An agricultural expert Edward Muiruri attached to the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Kenya chapter said they were working with experts from International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) among other organizations towards eradicating harmful insects that were wrecking food production as well as protecting the friendly ones.

He said the county governments should employ more agriculture extension officers who will visit the farmers and provide them with advice on improved farming practices.

“In Central Kenya, the situation has changed for the worse after hundreds of farmers started excessive chemical use that polluted the soils leading to poor production of food,” said Muiruri.

Irrigation expert Gibson Kiragu on his part said hundreds of projects are geared towards irrigation after the rain-fed agriculture failed.

Kiragu said there is a need for the locals to be encouraged to plant trees and also match towards the protection of the environment.

“Murang’a is one of the places where rain-fed agriculture has been badly affected following effects of climatic change, and we are presently embarking on irrigation projects funded by the national government,” said Kiragu.

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