Kenyan farmers are among the target audience for an ambitious “quick crop reference calendar” developed by the United Nations agriculture agency to give advice on the most appropriate crops, by climatic conditions and soil types, in agricultural zones from drylands to highlands.
The web-based tool which covers 43 major African countries was developed by experts in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and covers more than 130 crops from beans and beetroot, to wheat and watermelon. Farmers can also access it through their phones.
It is a tool developed to assist farmers, extension workers, civil society and the private sector to choose and make available quality seeds of the best crop varieties for each agro-ecological zone at the
appropriate sowing/planting season.
The calendar comes as Kenyan farmers perennially grapple with shortages of high quality seeds. Just this planting season, fears gripped the country when it emerged there was a serious shortage,
giving farmers almost no chance of increasing their on-farm productivity.
But the crop calendar can be used by development workers in the planning and implementation of seed relief activities, and as a quick reference tool in selecting crop varieties to adapt to changing
weather patterns, which have been accelerated by climate change.
The crop calendar covers all the major food crops in each selected country. Crops are grouped into five major categories: cereals and pseudo-cereals, oil and sugar crops, pulses, vegetables and roots and
tubers. The different planting dates in the different regions of each country are shown under each agro-ecological zone – which is defined in terms of climate, landform and soils.
The calendar also describes the best potential crops for each zone and the constraints on agricultural production. Since the planting date of a crop may vary among farmers within a region and also from one year to another depending on the particular conditions, the sowing/planting date is presented as a time period.
Complementary information such as planting rates, growing periods and common cropping practices for the major food crops is also included. Experts explain that seed and other planting materials must be
available for planting by farmers at the right time, in sufficient quantity, and of the right varieties adapted to the area where they are to be grown, in order to satisfy the needs of subsistence and
However, access to seed is often constrained physically and economically, and in many situations, particularly after calamities, farmers encounter serious difficulties getting the right seeds,
putting at risk their livelihoods and the food security of their families and of wide sectors of the population.
Having good knowledge of the planting periods is therefore deemed critical to the success of interventions in seed supplies in order to assist farmers in food crop production. According to Prof Henry Kibe an agricultural expert, delivering information on planting dates, seed rates and other basic information related to crop production focuses attention
on the right timelines and actions to achieve the resumption of the productive capacity of farmers.
“Even under normal circumstances, a good knowledge and easy access to this information is important for planning extension activities, and for the overall crop production campaigns,” said Prof Kibe.
An estimated 50 per cent of the global increase in yields over the past ten years has come from improving the quality of seeds.
The other 50 per cent has come from better water management and irrigation practices.
Launching the crop calendar, FAO Director of Plant Production and Protection Shivaji Pandey emphasized the critical role that seeds play in addressing the twin challenges of food insecurity and climate change.
“The right choice of crops and seeds is crucial both for improving the livelihoods of the rural poor and hungry and for dealing with climate change. To be able to make that choice, you have to make sure seeds and planting materials are available and accessible at the right place and at the right time,” he said.
Written By Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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