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Experts warn seed shortage may affect Kenya’s food security

By Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- A looming seed shortage in Kenya could hamper the country’s food security, Kenya’s researchers warned on Tuesday.

According to Kevin Onyanyo, Research Assistant, Tegemo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development at the Egerton University, if the shortage persists, farmers are likely to resort to use of local uncertified seeds, poor quality seeds, and varieties unsuitable for their agro-ecological areas.

“This will ensure that farmers don’t overwhelmingly rely on old varieties such as KS 614, which has been a darling variety to most farmers in Rift Valley and Western regions,” Onyango said in Nairobi.

Researchers say the farmers’ accessibility to the certified seeds is crucial to attaining food security in the East African nation. Maize is a main staple crop with 90 percent of the population depending on it for their daily energy and carbohydrates needs.

However, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , about 60 percent of the farmers in Kenya use clean and certified maize seeds.

Onyango said if the situation continues, farmers may reduce acreage under maize production, adding the situation also creates a window of opportunity for unscrupulous traders to sell non- certified or low quality seeds, disguised as certified seeds.

“All these have a potential to negatively impact on yields, farmer incomes, and overall food security for the country,” he said.

Although farmers have raised concern about maize seed shortage, the Kenya Seed Company (KSC), a state-run body that controls the country’s seed market, insists that seed is available and in adequate quantities for the season.

KSC had earlier this month dismissed claims that the country is facing maize seed shortage but warned of fake seeds in circulation.

The firm’s Head of Corporate Affairs Sammy Chepsiror allayed fears that farmers are unable to access are certified seeds from registered agents and outlets assuring of enough stocks to meet the high demands.

“There are adequate maize seeds in our stock to meet annually demand. We encourage farmers to access from registered stocklist and firm’s outlets across the country,” Chepsiror told Xinhua on March 11.

However, Onyango said seeds especially of the most popular KS 6213 and KS 614 varieties are not in stock with input dealers and are not available in KSC stores.

Onyango said there is need to focus on strategies that could mitigate this kind of predicament in the short and long run.

He said the country needs to prioritize and promote seed production under irrigation to ensure seed availability is not compromised by unreliable weather patterns.

“The farmers need to be sensitized, through extension services, on the availability of other seed varieties suitable for their agrobiological areas,” he added, noting that farmers need to be informed and trained on how to access information on seed availability using ICT-based technologies such as mobile phones.

The country has in the recent years faced recurrent food security challenges resulting from, among other things, inadequate access to inputs, high input prices, prolonged and severe droughts and spiraling food prices.

A large section of the population, particularly the poor, has thus grappled with inadequate access to food, sometimes resulting into severe hunger and loss of life.

The weather forecast by the Kenya Meteorological Services shows that the March to May long-rains are likely to be enhanced over most parts of Western and Central Kenya and near normal to below- normal rainfall over most of the eastern part of the country.

“This implies that domestic food production and supply from the long rains season may be favorable in Kenya’s grain basket,” Onyango said.

“However, hopes of good maize supply in the 2013/2014 cropping year may be hampered by challenges regarding availability and adequacy of seeds at the on-set of the cropping season,” he cautioned.

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