Seed bulking enables Western farmers create banks for neglected crops


Farmers in western Kenya have now moved to bulk their own legumes for their farms, cutting the over-reliance on seed companies and taking pressure off research institutions which have predominantly been involved in breeding and multiplying seeds for farmers.

The move has now moved to create seed banks for orphans while allowing them to earn extra income from the sale to other farmers. In Western Kenya, the looming economic boom of Soya, Groundnuts, and Cowpeas legumes has spurred more farmers who conventionally grew maize and beans to diversify.  Through Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and research institutions, farmers are bulking seeds of these high-value legumes that are also value-addition friendly enough, to earn them extra incomes locally.  

The seed bulking is part of a 3-year initiative begun in 2009 in Busia, Siaya, and Teso Districts and aimed at fighting food insecurity among the 15,000 SHFs targeted. Though the regions have the potential to produce enough food, few residents manage to have 3 square meals daily. Already, Soya farming looks economically promising for the regions, and Appropriate Rural Development Agricultural Program (ARDAP) is working with the farmers to build up adequate legume seed stock.  

Since ARDAP started out with the farmers in 2009, they have bulked soya seed in 8.4 hectares, groundnuts in 4 hectares and cowpeas in nearly a hectare. In the regions, “farmers have difficulties getting quality soya seed,” said Joseph Ambiya an enthusiastic start-up soya farmer.  He is one of the beneficiaries of the bulking and he got into soya farming the first time last year in April.

The scarcity of legume seeds like soya or cow peas in many agro-dealerships in Kenya is due to reluctance by seed companies to multiply it according to Dr. Martins Odendo an agro-economist with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) – Kakamega. Crops like legumes are not good for business to the companies as farmers reuse the seed for successive seasons unlike crops like maize where seed recycling results in low yields. That means farmers have to buy maize seeds every season to the benefit of the companies.   “This reluctance affects many so called orphan crops,” added Dr Odendo.

KARI Kakamega which breeds the certified seed also lacks the capacity to meet demands of all farmers. That is why currently, legume seed bulking among farmers has become vital.  KARI through ARDAP avails the certified seed to farmers who multiply for their use.  This arrangement is countering problems of late planting and lowering the costs of accessing the seeds by Western Kenya smallholder farmers.

According to Boniface Omondi a technical officer with ARDAP, farmers are given ARDAP quality soya seed from KARI Kakamega for free to grow. If a farmer is given 2kgs of Soya to grow he is expected on harvest to give back to 4kgs.  Of the 4kgs, 2kgs goes to the ARDAP Soya seed reserve and 2kgs goes to any new interested Soya farmer. Farmers in groups of 25 to 50 members can recruit friends by giving them Soya seeds for free to grow.

So far the project has been a success in recruiting new soya farmers and adding soya seed to the farm bank. Currently 3000 farmers this year have been added to the initiative. Seed recovery has also been encouraging “We have had a 90 percent recovery rate,” said Omondi.  The recovery is done in seed ceremonies for accountability and ease of follow-up. Here Soya farmers gather and pay back the seeds and an ARDAP officer records and prospective soya farmers there get free seeds.

The ceremony also doubles as a learning event. Farmers are taught value addition, Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) to ensure they know the primary benefits they will accrue from growing legumes like Soya which fix vital nutrients like nitrogen to the soil. As the seed bulking project grows there have been positives evident in farmlands too.  Farmers growing Soya report that it’s suppressing weeds like Striga and Richardia Scabra.  The two are evidence of soil infertility and their effect on farmlands in the 3 regions has been low yields, less than a tonne of maize or legumes per hectare.  

“The soils are highly weathered and low in nutrients,” said Dr Bashir Jama the Director of Soil Health Program at Alliance for Green Revolution Africa (AGRA) who provide funds for outreaches to farmers by local CBOs. In the project there have been incidences where farmers tend the legumes poorly and harvests are low and farmers can’t pay back their seed.   
He emphasizes farmers incorporate good agronomic practices into their farming in order to get high legume yields.  According to Dr Bashir to get high yields farmers should incorporate the 4 Rs – apply the right fertilizer at the right rates through the right method at the right time.

To counter any incidences where farmers hold back from paying back the seed, group pressure by other members is applied to errant members.  “They must pay back to the project,” said Omondi as it’s the only way to accumulate enough seed.  The farmers who are growing the Soya are getting relatively good prices and some market avenues have opened up.

ARDAP sourced some oil companies who are buying the Soya from farmers per kilogram they are getting over half a US dollar or Shs55.  ARDAP also hopes to build a processing factory in the near future and be buying from farmers at higher prices.  Of the three legumes cowpea is the most lucrative in the market and a kilogram fetches from Sh100. However, its bulking is a challenge due to pests and diseases that attack it when growing.  So Soya is preferred by farmers for adoption currently.

Ambiya and the other 10 farmers in their first season last year got yields of 490kgs of Soya and he “paid” 10kg back some to the bulking initiative.  He anticipates more farmers to join now they see Soya bean farming is lucrative.  The varieties they are bulking are SB 19, SB25 and newly introduced Samba.

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