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Lack of certified crop seeds threatens Kenya’s food security: experts

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- A shortage of certified crop seed stocks and limited crop choices at local dealers threatens food security amid severe drought caused by lack of failed rains in Kenya, warns a new study released in Nairobi on Tuesday.

The study, which was carried out by Nairobi-based Bayesian Consulting Group, found farmers’ demand for certified seed regularly exhausted stocks at dealer shops, particularly for non-maize seeds.

The lack of seed for crops other than maize impedes efforts to fight climate change through crop diversification, says the study.

According to the study, 51 percent of the agrodealers interviewed said they cannot keep up with farmer demand for certified seed.

“While we are glad to hear farmers’ demand for certified seed is rising rapidly, it is frustrating to learn that many dealers lack both the quantity and variety of seeds Kenyan farmers need to avoid drought-induced devastation,” said Anastasia Mbatia, a seed distribution specialist at Agri Experience.

The study, which was commissioned by Kenya Markets Trust, through its implementing partner in crop seeds, Agri Experience, a Nairobi-based seed consulting firm, finds local dealers could play a pivotal role in helping farmers adapt to climate change, yet their assistance is severely limited by a shortage of certified crop seed stocks and financing options.

“What this report shows is that as growing conditions become more challenging, the fight for food security in Kenya may be won or lost with rural dealers,” said Mbatia.

The analysts found that over 80 percent of Kenya’s agrodealer shop owners have a college, graduate or post graduate level education. Therefore, they have the expertise to steer farmers to seed and inputs that can help them adapt to shifts in growing conditions.

A key positive finding from the study is that between 2014 and 2015, agrodealers posted an 85 percent increase in the volume of maize seeds they stocked and another 27 percent jump in the 2016 long rains season.

That is important, because maize harvests in Kenya, which average about 1.6 metric tons per hectare, lag far behind the global average of 5.6 metric tons. Wider use of certified seed for improved maize varieties is viewed as essential to closing this chronic “yield gap.”

“It’s frustrating that crop breeders have developed varieties that could protect Kenyan farmers from drought, yet too often seeds for these crops simply are not easily accessible for farmers,” said Noel Templer, a research manager at Agri Experience.

As many agriculture experts note, improved varieties of crops like beans, sorghum and millet would be far better choices than maize when climate forecasts warn of unreliable rains.

“This intense demand for high quality certified seed justifies extending affordable credit to agrodealers to boost their inventory,” said Templer.

“In this study, financing for agrodealers emerged as a major barrier to offering farmers a wider menu of seed choices.”

For example, while all of the agrodealers said they carried maize seed, only 42 per cent stocked bean seeds, 16 per cent stocked sorghum, 10 per cent carried finger millet, and 4 per cent offered seed for green grams and cowpeas.

The study authors saw these numbers as further evidence that Kenya’s farmers are over-reliant on maize, which often performs poorly in drought relative to other crops.

“It’s time to reduce the dominance of maize on Kenyan farms and in Kenyan diets and to do that, farmers need access to a much wider range of quality seeds for crops like beans and cowpeas,” said Julius Kamau, an agrodealer at Juja Agrovet in Embu County.



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