Improved Seed Varieties Wet Appetite for Farming

From a variety of crops on his two-acre piece of land, a healthy maize crop forms part of Joseph Mulei’s pride as a retired civil servant-turned-farmer. It is a testimony of a man succeeding in modern farming despite his advanced age.

Mulei, who hails from Kasinga village in Machakos county, cannot stop marvelling at his successes as he walks visitors around the farm. His success story cannot be complete without mentioning two huge indigenous avocado trees already with mature fruits and a 3,000-litre water reservoir in his compound.

He is one of the few farmers, who have created a paradise in small farms in the traditionally rain-deficient region simply by turning to improved seed varieties. “I am not going back. Adoption of the improved seed varieties has changed my life. For five years, I have never bought food.

I even sell some to my neighbours,” he tells a farmers’ delegation in his farm. Because of his organisational skills, he is the leader of a group of 25 farmers in the area. He plants a variety of crops, with most seeds sourced from Dryland Seed Limited (DSL).

Mulei’s story and a spot check at some of the agro-dealers in Machakos town confirm the fact that, there is growing uptake of improved seed varieties in the area and adjacent counties in recent times.

More than 90 per cent of the eastern part of the country is described as semi-arid and experiences perennial food shortages. DSL Managing Director, Ngila Kimotho describes Mulei as an organised farmer and a teacher. “He buys the seeds from us and follows instructions to the letter.

In fact, we have even asked him if he can add more varieties in his plot,” says Ngila. If the recent strides by DSL are anything to go by, then the region will soon bid farewell to repeated hunger. The company has produced seed varieties suitable for semi-arid weather conditions.

Ngila confirmed that uptake of the seeds since 2010 has changed the analogy that the area is a food insecure region. “For the last four years, we have witnessed the adoption of improved crops,” said Ngila during the launch of a project to construct three warehouses in Machakos with storage capacity to hold 1,500 metric tonnes of grains.

The facility will support farmers in Machakos and its environs by maintaining seed quality as a result of good storage. “Each warehouse has a capacity of 500 tonnes and will ensure that they are able to safely store more seeds.

We believe this investment would have a major impact on the lives of smallholder farmers. This is expected to scale up the adoption of certified seeds and lead to increased yields,” he said.

The construction of the warehouse is a result of a soft loan of Sh49.27 million from Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) after the organisation, an initiative of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), was pleased with DSL’s innovative proposal to deliver seeds to farmers.

“The AECF decided to support this initiative because it is innovative and, will provide smallholder farmers with a chance to increase their yields and improve the lives of their families,” says Dr Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president.

“We expect this programme to increase access to high quality crop varieties, thereby contributing to higher incomes,” he adds. Machakos and indeed the whole of lower eastern region reports high post-harvest losses every year and aflatoxin contamination because of poor storage.

Ngila says the new facility will provide good storage of seeds, expedite separation of products and improve stock rotation. “This will ultimately lead to increased incomes and create new business opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs in the seed sector,” he adds.

Apparently, DSL has developed and commercialised climate smart seeds from a capacity of 5 tonnes in 2007 – when adoption of improved seeds was low – to the current capacity of 600 tonnes, seeking to achieve 1,000 tonnes by end of 2016.

Initially, the company used to deal with about 20 out-growers, but the number has grown to more than 200. AGRA President Dr Agnes Kalibata who presided over the laying of the warehouse’s foundation stone said the initiative will help increase smallholder farmers’ access to high quality seeds thereby contribute to higher incomes. The facility is set to come up soon on a three-acre piece of land.

“This is a tough business to be in and there is need to support seed companies to get seeds grown, packaged and shipped out to farmers,”siad Kalibata, the former Rwandan Agriculture and Animal Resources minister, who is credited with reseeding the country’s farms.

She said there is need to invest in food storage to make Africa food secure. DSL was established in 2004 and specialises in dryland agriculture in the low and mid altitude areas.

Since 2007, DSL has registered three hybrid maize varieties (SAWA, DSL 106, CKH 122114) in addition to the ones it developed with assistance from AGRA (KDV 1, KDV 2, KDV 4). Farmers adoption has been on the increase with their seed varieties finding acceptance in Eastern, South Rift, Coast, North Eastern, central and Nyanza.

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