Private companies delve into seed supply to bridge biting shortage

maize kenya plantationMore than 1.3 million Kenyan farmers have land but no seeds to plant. This, coming at a time when over 10 million Kenyans are still food insecure. To the farmers who have access to the seeds they rely on retained seeds, the seeds from the previous harvest, because of their their availability and the low cost in acquiring them.

The trouble with the retained seeds is that they are susceptible to diseases, and cannot withstand the changing weather conditions. Infact these retained seeds, have yields of 25-30 percent lower than the yield of hybrid seeds in the first harvest. In harvests after that, yield tends to drop 50 percent. Ultimately this leads to dismal yields and the cycle of food insecurity continues.

The over reliance on traditional inferior seeds was to blame for the fatal maize disease that wiped thousands of acres of maize crops in Kenya's breadbasket areas of threatening millions of Kenyans with starvation last year and which has since resurfaced. scientists attributed the resurgence to farmers failing to heed to warnings on planting and using seeds from previous harvest.

The disease was also blamed on fake seeds which have been rounds in the market with farmers especially in Rift and Central Kenya, who predominantly grow maize, having fallen prey to unscrupulous traders who have been packaging fake seeds and passing them as genuine.

Maize lethal necrotic (MLN), a viral infection made up of two viruses, maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus. The disease is new in the country but has been reported in other parts of the world. Already, according to government estimates, last year the disease caused a loss of over 8,000 tonnes of maize and affected 4,200 hectares of farmland.

The cost and scarcity of high quality seeds in Kenya has held back many smallholders in achieving the highest yields, as well as limiting them in trying out new crops. But the demand for seeds from these farmers is still high. According to recent reports the demand for seeds in 13 countries in Africa combined is around 0.5 million tonnes, with the supply being only 0.2 million tonnes. This translates to only a 40 percent of the demand being met.

Private companies are shifting focus to distribution and supply of seeds to address the looming crisis. Companies like Elgon Kenya have invested in seed distribution and training of farmers, a venture that is paying off.

Seed varieties like Water Melon's Sweet Shine F1 for example, produces vigorous and strong vines giving proper shade and nourishment to fruits producing fruits with an average weight of seven to nine kilogrammes which is almost double the tradition water melon fruit weight.