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    High Yield

    Maize farmers in Kenya could produce 3.7 tonnes of maize per hectare (2.5 acre), almost three times the current capacity immediately the government approves commercialization of Bacillus Thuringiensis maize (BT maize), a  type of genetically modified organism (GMO) variety.
    Currently, Kenya produces a paltry 1.6 tonnes per hectare which is more than three times below the global average of five tonnes per hectare, this according to Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) a nongovernmental body working with KALRO and African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) to introduce the maize in the country by the end of this year
    If introduced, Kenya will be the second country in the continent after South Africa to legalize BT maize which has the potential to fix food situation in the country. Maize is the country’s staple food with the average per capita consumption estimated to be at 103kg per person. The crop accounts for 3 per cent of the country’s GDP and 21 percent of the total value of primary agricultural commodities according to a 2014 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data.
    Pest resistant
    The high demand and low production mainly due to bad climatic conditions, harsh pests and diseases like stem borers known to reduce maize production by up to 400,000 tonnes per year normally force the country into the expensive import market. South Africa which introduced biotech maize varieties in 2011 realized a national maize yield of 9.5 per cent the following year and is currently the net exporter of maize in the continent.
    The BT maize being developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in conjunction with other bodies like WEMA and AATF transfers its genes into the maize plant which upon eaten by stem borer cause it to ingest the encoded proteins through the gut suffocating the insect to death. The maize variety saves farmers the financial an health burden of using chemical pesticides which are expensive and unhealthy. The biotech maize if adopted will also limit the amount of chemical gas emitted to the air, hence environmental friendly.
    Lifting the ban on GM
    In August last year, Deputy President William Ruto said that the government was working towards legalizing genetically modified crop varieties in a bid to improve the country’s food security before the end of 2016. Mr Ruto, who was speaking at the fourth National Biosafety Conference, also urged stakeholders to roll out BT cotton to benefit from resources at the Ministry of Industrialisation set aside for cotton and leather tanning revival.
    Resistance
    Even as the country prepare itself for GM takeoff, Francis Nang'ayo, Senior Manager for Regulatory Affairs at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation is warning of strong resistance from Anti GMO activists who links GMO Foods to increased cancer cases in the world. Protests by those activists for instance saw the country ban genetically modified seeds import and cultivation in the country in 2012. However, the World Health Organization has since confirmed that GM has no effects on human health.
    Although the first maize trials with the Bt trait were harvested in Kenya in May 2013, its national rollout has received resistance from regulatory authorities including KEMRI, KEPHIS, NEMA and the National Biosafty Authority (NBA) which insist on further research to ascertain health safety. Bt maize is also drought resistant and can be grown in any soils.


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    Public and private sectors in agriculture must strengthen channels of supplying high quality crop plating materials to small-scale farmers for maximum yields.

    In addition, access to information on markets and available varieties would improve production of traditional and contemporary foods that can withstand climate chance effects and other shortcomings.

    A new food production research dubbed Seed systems small-holder farmers use, says at least 90.2 per cent of small-holder farmers source planting seeds, grains, tubers among others from informal sources.

    The sources include own stock, borrowing from relatives and neighbours, and other local markets. 

    The study found these informal sources are to blame for low crop production in study countries-Kenya, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Zimbabwe and South Sudan.

    From the 9,660 cases under scrutiny, 40 crops were sampled. About half of the farmers got their seeds and other planting materials from local markets as opposed to those relying on agro-dealers.

    “Seeds can be the conduit for moving new varieties, giving farmers access to more productive, yield-enhancing traits. New seed is linked to strategies for raising nutrition, as with bio-fortified varieties selected for elevated micro-nutrient levels,” the report says.

    Besides, materials from the agro-certified suppliers have been improved to do well in relatively poor soils and stressful weather conditions.

    Damages

    Sourcing planting materials informally increases chances of of reduced yields because cross-pollination in one's shamba is unlikely to give a productive 'hybrid', the report says.

    The formal sector must broaden its scope of reach to improve accessibility of planting materials to the farmers wherever they are, the study recommends.

    “Even for their designated crops (maize and horticultural crops), formal sector outlets can rarely cover the full zones of farmer need. For example, only 23 per cent of farmers in Nzaui, Kenya, were within one hour walk of a formal agro-dealer outlet. Seed enterprises may be reluctant to serve remote areas too,” the report says.

    The informal planting material distribution channels handle the bulk of the small-holder farmers. The sector can be formalised by governments and their partners helping the farmers improve the quality of the seeds already available as well as strengthening marketing and information systems.

    Proper harvest storage can also prevent seed and gain loses, which may even eat up to 30 per cent of the yield.

    However, farmers should not be limited in information access at this time when more than 86 per cent of its population owns mobile telephones. Many information outlets give support to farmers through short message services and standby calls.

     

    Some of the crops that were in focus include sorghum, maize, cowpea, green grams, millet, rice, groundnuts, cassava, bananas, sweet and Irish potatoes, common beans, among others.

     

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