Smallholder farmers over reliance on seed varieties from as early as 1930’s has been blamed for the continued yield dip which has further fanned the hunger cycle, but private companies are coming to the rescue of farmers with modern varieties capable of withstanding changing weather patterns.
Seed varieties from the 30s could produce upto 30 bags of maize in an acre of land. The same seeds nowadays can only produce a meager 10 bags. The ripple effect has been a hunger cycle that has been fanned over the decades. Private companies aware of this sorry state of affairs have stepped in to save the day. Elgon Kenya is one such company. It has collaborated with researchers to unveil Elgon Prestige 02 maize variety that has more than doubled farmers yields.
The maize variety which has promised to revolutionize maize production in the country, is resistant to virtually all maize diseases, is high yielding compared to traditional varieties and grows well in all soil types and climatic conditions.
The variety which has successfully grown in many parts of the country has recorded impressive yields producing 90 kgs per acre. Other varieties pick between 50-60kgs. It takes 3 months for the maize to mature with the dried cob being ready for harvest in four months.
It has also been hailed by industry players for its high grain quality which is good for storage and sweet in taste.
But even more superior is its ability to weather major maize diseases and pests especially the voracious stem borer which destroys over 40 percent of farmers’ yields. No other maize variety has managed to counter the devastating effects of the stem borer.
As the Kenyan farmers grapple with what maize variety to plant where, which has ultimately affected yields, Elgon Prestige 02 has come with the assurance to farmers of that they can expect bumper harvests irrespective of the soils. Damaris Mworia a cereal farmer and supplier of maize to major hotels and maize factories in Nakuru has known nothing but misery in the last five years. From strange maize diseases that swept her entire maize harvest in 2012, to failed rains in recent harvests, Mary was forced to cancel her supplies and concentrate on other ventures. From producing over 20 bags of maize which fetched her over Sh60,000 she was reduced to earning a paltry Sh10,000.
All that changed after attending a Farmers Open day organized by Elgon Kenya where she learnt about the Prestige 02 variety. Agreeing to try it albeit half heartedly, Damaris prepared her land. True to Elgon Kenya’s agronomist word, she has found a goldmine in farming. Not only has she reclaimed her yields but she has also doubled them. “It was utter shock and disbelief when I planted the Elgon Prestige variety. The long lush of towering green maize plantations with huge maize cobs was a sight I have not seen. What surprised me more was the fact that I never even spent a dime in pest control. The maize crop just grew and grew and grew, strong and healthy,” said Damaris who has now revived his cereals supply business. In the last harvest, she has managed to earn Sh90,000 from the sale of the maize.
The maize is attracting countrywide demand as dwindling supply creates food shortage, in a country where an average Kenyan consumes 98 kilograms of maize. But according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Kenya's maize production ranges between 24and 33million bags per year against an estimated demand of 45million bags annually.
In the last season for example, farmers harvested 28.9 million bags of maize, against a projection of 43.4 million bags for the 2013/14 crop season creating a 14 million bags deficit or one third shortfall in production given an annual national consumption of between 40 million and 43.5 million bags.
And with Kenya’s population projected to grow to 43.1 million by 2020, the demand for maize is expected to soar to five million metric tonnes, and therein lies the problem. “We cannot continue to grow the same varieties, using the same traditional practices even as population burgeons and the size of land decreases. We need to farm smart if we are to save ourselves from the yoke of hunger,” said Nelson Maina of Elgon Kenya.
The new maize variety is available at Sh350 for a 2kg pack. It is available across the country where Elgon Kenya Ltd has over 400 stockists.