Farmers will soon benefit from drought and disease tolerant millet varieties after they were developed by researchers at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
“During the first phase of our project, we have identified millet samples showing resistance to drought striga weed and blast disease,” said Benjamin Kilian, the Project Coordinator.
According to the Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund Project, by using improved varieties and better agronomic practices, farmers’ yields growing the grain could increase from 0.5–1.0 tonne per hectare to 3.0–5.0 tonnes per hectare giving small-scale farmers access to higher yielding finger millet varieties can contribute to economic development and poverty alleviation in Kenya.
Blast disease causes 30 per cent losses on millet on average annually in Kenya.
According to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), striga weed infests over 20m ha of crops in sub-Saharan Africa each year causing losses estimated at Sh100bn thereby affecting over 100m people who depend on agriculture and specifically maize and millet to sustain their livelihoods.
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Millet farming in Kenya. Courtesy
In East Africa, the weed infests over 1.4m hectares yearly with Kenya accounting for 340,000 ha of the total land invaded by the weed. Millet production in Kenya has dropped by half since 2013 due to the infestation by the weed and blast disease from 1.4m bags in 2013 to 0.6m bags in 2017 according to the Economic Survey 2018 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
The striga weed normally causes stunted growth of cereal crops like millet maize and wheat by attaching itself to the roots of the host plant extracting essential nutrients and moisture necessary for growth.
The Kenyan ministry of agriculture has urged maize farmers all over the country to plant millet, cassava, sorghum and amaranth crops to be used for blending maize flour in a move aimed at reducing overdependence on maize for food and income and improve the country’s nutritional needs.
Maize consumption is estimated at 98 kilograms per person per year, which translates to roughly 30 to 34 million bags (2.7 to 3.1m metric tonnes) per year, according to Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy And Development 2016 research.
The ministry estimates that the blending of millet , cassava, amaranth and cassava with maize flour will reduce maize consumption from about 30m bags per year to about 20m bags over the same period while the surplus will be exported.