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    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.

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    Millions of farmers in Africa are now harvesting two to three times more grain compared to 10 years ago thanks to improved availability of and access to high yielding, high-quality seed according to estimates by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

    In a newly-released publication tracking the work of the Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS), an AGRA initiative covering 18 countries, the organization says farmers in many of these countries are harvesting yields of up to 5 metric tons per hectare, up from an average of about 1 metric ton before the programme was started.

    RELATED STORY: AGRA scales food security resolve with new programme

    Under the programme which spanned 10 years, more than 600 new varieties of major African crops have been bred and released. In addition, 112 local, private seed companies have been established, up from 10 in 2007 in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa. As a result, over 600,000 MT of high-quality, high-yielding seeds have been produced and distributed to an estimated 15 million farmers, with significant impact on yields and income. The distribution has been done through a network of about 20,000 private, village-based agro-dealers who have been trained and supported to set up small rural shops that bring the seeds closer to farmers.

    Speaking at the launch of the book, the AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, observed that establishing a viable system for the supply
of quality, high-yielding seed is an essential component of agricultural transformation.

    “Initiatives like PASS are contributing to a new image of African agriculture that is far from the scenes of low productivity and widespread rural poverty of previous decades. Today, many farming households are getting double and triple yields leading to higher incomes. They also have access to crops that are more nutritious, that are drought and pest resistant, and that cook faster using less firewood and saving both the environment and time,” Dr. Kalibata said.

    RELATED STORY: AGRA launches Africa’s agriculture bible

    “Increasing the supply of improved seeds will continue to play a crucial role in growing Africa’s economies through agriculture, but will be made more sustainable, we believe, through the development of the entire food value chain espexially by private local agri-businesses, more forward looking policies, and stronger regulatory institutions,” she said.

    Dr. Joe DeVries, AGRA’s Vice President for Program Development and Innovation, noted that the work of PASS has helped farmers to increase their productivity and wellbeing. “We are really pleased to see that farmers across the continent have adopted the new seed. But, the really good news is that crop yields in several countries are increasing for the first time in decades,” said Dr. DeVries.

    “It is extremely gratifying to see that this catalytic investment of about $300 million in the national seed sector across the continent over the last decade has yielded a good harvest and laid the foundation for Africa to feed itself,” he added.

    RELATED STORY: Pan-African organizations Partner for Nature and Agriculture

    According to the book, entitled, The PASS Journey: Seeding an African Seed Revolution, launched today, the transformation of the agriculture sector is critical to Africa’s economic prosperity. An improved agriculture means food security for all and growth of agri-based enterprises resulting in job creation, especially for the youth.

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