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Better prospects for Kenya coconut farmers from hybrid seeds

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Farmers in the Coastal region of Kenya are set for better times following the launch of hybrid coconut varieties after years of relying on the locally propagated ones.

This will be the first time for farmers in the East African nation to plant the hybrid coconuts imported from India.

Coconut is a major cash crop in the region, which is Kenya’s tourism bedrock, but for many years, farmers have been planting local varieties that take at least five years to mature.

The new hybrid varieties mature in about two years and offer higher yields.

Priscilla Gathiga, the CEO of Micro Enterprise Support Program Trust (MESPT), a development organization that imported the seeds into the country, said on Friday that for years farmers at the Coast have been growing only two local varieties.

These are the East African Tall, which has been in production since the introduction of coconut growing in the country with no improvement in terms of research, and the Dwarf variety mainly planted for ornamental purposes and for its water.

"We have imported a total of 6,000 coconut seeds which will be planted on 120 acres next week under the care of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.

After six months of successful observation, the seedlings will be distributed to smallholder farmers across the Coast," said Gathiga.

The trend in other coconut growing countries has been that of introducing improved hybrid varieties. However, while Kenya has successfully propagated hybrid seeds for other crops, coconut has lagged behind.

Farmers at the Coast welcomed the development noting that the new varieties would offer them more income.

Coconut offers many products that include oil, water, syrup and sugar, besides the leaves being used for thatching houses.

The crop is the most dominant at the Coast and is one of the tourist attractions in the region, with visitors mainly loving the coconut water locally known as madafu, which goes at 0.3 U.S. dollars a cup.

"With the new varieties, I know my work as a grower, a taper and a coconut honey maker would get a big boost," said Simon Mbaji.

Besides honey, he also makes wine from coconut water, selling a 750-ml bottle at 0.7 dollars, having acquired the skills from a state agency.

Other products that can be produced from coconut sap include vinegar, jam, sauce and nectar.

"The products from coconut include both edible and non-edible and can offer raw material for several agro-industrial activities.

"The hybrid palms are product specific, that is they produce water, oil content, fibre content and palm wine production," said Gathiga.

According to the Nuts Development Authority, coconut can earn Kenya up to 250 million dollars in revenue annually if fully exploited.

However, the crop is currently earning the currently some 10 million dollars due to poor quality seedlings and lack of value addition.

The authority notes that the Coastal region has some 8 million coconut trees but most of them are too old.

"Market for Kenya’s coconut products is mainly in Tanzania and the U.S. but production is low due to many challenges that include poor seeds.

"With hybrid seeds, farmers should hope for better times as better varieties of seeds have boosted production of crops like avocados and passion fruits which are being exported to Europe," said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.

           

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