Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) maize breeding division at Muguga has released three new mid-altitude hybrid maize varieties, which they say guarantee farmers five to ten per cent more yield than any current mid-altitude breeds.
The new hybrid breeds took KARI eight years to develop. “These are conventional, not genetically modified,” said Dr Phillip Leley, a breeding specialist at KARI-Muguga, explaining why it took so long to develop the new varieties. The last time now mid-altitude maize species were released was in 2007.
The new varieties are resistant to Grey leaf spot and Maize Streak Viruses, and Turcicum blight. Research shows that per hectare these infections combined can reduce yield by 50 percent. KARI’s own research showed that farmers made losses of up to Sh28, 000 per hectare due to maize streak viruses alone.
The maturity time for the new maize is 4 to 5 months and per hectare, if the weather is favorable farmers, can harvest 6 to 8 tonnes of grain. The maximum yield for breeds in the current market is 5 tonnes or less per hectare. The new breeds KH500-48A, KH500-42A and KH500-49A have large cobs with 40 to 80 per cent more dry matter, making them viable for farmers keeping livestock.
The new mid-altitude breeds are targeted at areas such as Embu, Kangundo, Kakamega Kiambu and around Lake Victoria. “All five series breeds are targeted to mid-altitude zones,” advises Leley. Other notable mid-altitude five series breeds are 513 and 514.
According to Dr Leley, each maize species developed are suited for different agro-ecological zones. He laments that due to lack of information, farmers at times plant breeds unsuited for certain climates or zones. This results in poor yields that disillusion them with maize farming.
Farmers in low altitude areas, where it’s arid or semi-arid, as in Eastern parts of Kenya Kitui, Machakos, Kibwezi or Mtwapa in Coast province, the Katumani, Coast Composite or Pwani Hybrid breeds are the ones that are best suited to the climate.
They mature rapidly and in three months are ready to harvesting. But their yields are lower than for mid-altitude and high altitude regions. In a season, the most a farmer can reap in low altitude regions is 5 tonnes per hectare, if crops are tended well. However, in some regions farmers can be guaranteed of at least two planting seasons.
Maize growing in high altitude regions takes around six months for the crop to mature, but yields per hectare are the highest of the three. They range from 8 to 10 tonnes per hectare. The six series varieties like 614, 625, 626 and 628 are best for such regions. Kitale, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho and Upper Migori are places where six seed series breed flourishes.
Maize farmed in Kenya is currently conventionally developed and not genetically modified. But in February this year a project dubbed the Improved Maize for African Soils Project (IMAS) began, with the aim of developing breeds using conventional breeding and biotechnology. The resultant breeds will need less fertilizer and will be affordable to African farmers. They will also effectively absorb nitrogen needed for grain production.
The project initiators, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) predict that the breeds developed will increase yields by 30 to 50 percent from current levels, even when growing in poor soils.
In the next four years farmers are expected to access these new seed varieties free of royalty. The initiators note that African farmers grapple with nutrient-starved, degraded soils, while also not being able to afford to buy enough nitrogen fertilizer.
Some seed companies where farmers can get the newly released mid-altitude maize seeds are Olerai Limited and Leldet Kenya Limited. A 2kg packet at seed shops or hardware stores retails at below Sh1000.
Written by James Karuga for African Laughter
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