A solar powered mobile germination and seedling plant factory that halves the time seeds take to germinate while producing ten times more seeds than traditional methods has been unveiled in Uasin Gishu, potentially sounding a death knell for the incessant food shortage that has been traced to lack of enough planting seeds especially from the region considered the breadbasket of the country.
Currently farmers in the area grow tomatoes, cabbage and maize but timely access to quality seeds, irrigation, energy and fertiliser stand between them and optimal production. Seed germination which is usually practised in small pieces of land takes 14 days with a quarter of an acre producing some 10,000 seeds.
Dubbed Solar Grow 1 (SG1), the equipment, the first of its kind in Africa is fully equipped with a production area, a weather station which monitors and brings forth weather patterns, internet platform, and a lab system that will help farmers detect crop diseases. It is also fitted with an irrigation system, which has the ability of irrigating over five acres of land depending on the water source. It also has the ability of germinating over 100,000 seeds in a week while testing over 100 seeds for diseases each day.
Produced and donated by Kent Science Park-based company Boundless Horizons, the machine costs about Sh5 million to set up one station. “I am thrilled at this opportunity to put the SG1 to exactly the kind of use for which it was designed, increasing food production in locations where this is not otherwise possible. I am also very happy that the team I will be working with in Kenya, and who will run the SG1 after I leave, is from the community that the SG1 will serve. It is my hope that this kind of transfer of equipment and technical knowledge will one day mean that innovators an inventors thrive in places such as Eldoret,” said lead Inventor Alexander K Bushell.
The machine also allow farmers to test their soil conditions and seed quality before planting at Sh500, and get results within 3 hours. This is a far cry from the exorbitant Sh2000 or more that KARI and KEPHIS have been accused of charging farmers exorbitantly for the same services and taking weeks or months to release such test results.
“Farmers in this area have never seen anything like this, and are willing to spend even more to get their soils tested in time and get a variety of seeds at the right time since delay in planting seeds has been their greatest nightmare,”said a local technician who is being trained to operate the machine as a policy of the Boundless Horizons to leave the project to local farmers.
Uasin Gishu is among Kenya's breadbasket zones growing predominantly Kenya's staple maize with an annual production of 1million MT but lack of planting seeds and maize diseases has seen production fall to between 700,000 and 800,000 MT and the area under maize cultivation drop by about 10,024 hectares in the last three years.