The future of food security in the country is under threat as farmers reject new crop varieties, a study shows.
Research findings by the African Seed Access Index (TASAI) indicate that maize, which is Kenya’s stable food crop, is the most affected with farmers sticking to old varieties that are less productive and susceptible to diseases and pests.
The findings come at a time when maize farmers are still grappling with Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) and infestation of the crop by the fall army worm.
The latest in the scourge is Kisumu and Busia counties where farmers have decried losses following attacks by fall army worms.
“There is a notable shortage in the supply of breeder seed within Kenya. With respect to maize, supply-side constraints override constraints on the demand side,” state the findings of the TASAI study conducted in 2018.
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Ironically, the study shows there were more new varieties released by seed companies as compared to other crops grown in the country.
“Between 2015 and 2017, 98 new varieties of maize were released, compared to 18 new varieties of sorghum, 16 new varieties of beans and four new varieties of cow peas,” the study states.
The report further shows that the new varieties are resistant to maize lethal necrosis disease, tolerant to drought and resistant to maize streak virus.
However, despite the positive attributes of the new varieties, farmers have been reluctant to experiment on the new varieties with many sticking to the foundation seeds including H614.
The study also notes that the slow circulation of new varieties may be due to “slow introduction of the varieties in the market where older varieties are still popular.”
Fear of future food insecurity as a result of farmers’ resistance to new varieties has also been severed by the long duration that it takes seed companies to release a new variety as well as the expensive cost of certifying new variety.
Head of Seed Certification at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) Mr Simon Maina confirmed that farmers were reluctant to grow new varieties because they had doubts about their productivity.
To remedy the impending challenge of food security, the research has recommended that the government should support efforts of Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK) to promote circulation of seeds in the country.
Speaking during the release of the findings in Nairobi, STAK chairperson Kassim Owino said farmers should be sensitized on the gains of using new varieties.
“We need to look at how farmers are missing on the varieties resistant to pests and diseases, drought tolerant and other advantages. We need to improve on the factors of production such as irrigation to make proper use of new varieties,” said Mr Owino.
The study also indicated that circulation of fake seeds in the market was also undermining gains made in the food industry.
“Some seed companies collude with unethical businessmen to produce packaging materials…the packaging materials are then used by con-men to package and sell uncertified seed,” indicates the findings.
The study was conducted to appraise the structure and economic performance of Kenya’s seed sector.