Barley rises as crop of choice as farmers seek new frontiers

As vanguard farmers explore various ways of maximizing on land use and reaping more from farming, cereal production seem to be their forte. But forget the traditional maize and beans, a new crop has been in the offing that is turning farmers into overnight millionaires.

Barley which is sought after by beer companies as one of the prime ingredients in the making of beer, is enjoying impressive uptake by farmers with the jump in its cultivation having shot by over 60 percent in the last four years.

Interestingly though, while it traditionally was farmed by large scale farmers, a new trend where beer companies have chosen to give incentives to smallholder farmers has seen both yield and acreage under production go sky high.

But the farmers are still hedging themselves from market vagaries by growing the barley side by side with other traditional cereals like maize and beans. Behind towering lushes of barley plantations is the story of Douglas Nderi a smallholder farmer in Narok county whose 4 acre piece of land has made a turnaround since he embraced barley farming.

After receiving a visit from officials at East African Malting Limited, a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited he was convinced of the potential that lay in this venture.  He has never regretted setting aside three acres for barley production. Each acre fetches Sh15,000. His is a classic example of how vanguard farmers are hedging themselves from the vagaries of volatile markets for traditional cereals like maize. He has an assured market including insurance of his crop and subsidised farm inputs such as fertiliser and seeds.

He represents thousands of farmers now delving into barley farming buoyed by encouraging returns.   A 90 kilogramme bag is bought at Sh3,285 compared to maize that fetches Sh1,900 for the same quantity.

Rift Valley province where Narok falls under has led the country in reaping the fortunes of barley farming, with the area under cultivation of the crop in the region increasing from 3,012 hectares to 21,630 hectares while the production has gone up from 92,434 bags to 627,705 bags last season.
The rise and rise of the cereal crop comes as other crops like maize and wheat record appallingly as new diseases and unpredictable weather takes toil on yields.

At the same time wheat production in the country is expected to decline this season due to the ongoing heavy rains that has interrupted harvesting of the crop in the South Rift region. The dangerous Ug 99 disease and wheat rust has eaten into farmers’ pockets as it subjects them to extra costs in containing the spread of the disease.

Sub-division of large wheat farms into smaller uneconomical plots, inadequate of certified seeds and attack by migratory birds especially quelea birds has contributed to decline production of the crop.

But even as barley continues to bask in glory, experts are only guaranteeing farmers of sustained yields if they take good care of the crop which is susceptible to attacks. But with the right arsenals like Impact Fungicide, and Eazole, distributed by Elgon Kenya Limited farmers can concentrate on upping yield as pest control is assured.