Maize is the single most extensively grown crop across Kenya that many depend on for income generation, however, a new report has warned that Kenya’s overreliance on maize at the expense of other crops threatens to increase the rate of undernourishment in the country.
Primarily, residents in Trans Nzoia, Nakuru, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu, and a few other counties carry out maize farming on a large scale, which means that they rely the most on the crop.
According to the study dubbed “Access to Seeds Index 2019,” maize dominates breeding, raising concerns over crop diversity and adaptability within East Africa’s seed system.
Eleven companies reported active maize programs, more than double that of dry beans, soybean, and tomato, the next most frequently bred crops.
Field crops and legumes are bred more frequently than vegetables, with only three of the six specialized vegetable companies demonstrating broad breeding programs in the region itself.
The report noted that the dominance of maize breeding should be a cause of concern over crop diversity and adaptability within regional seed systems.
Moreover, the stats raise concerns about the ability of smallholder farmers to access a range of modern varieties of other important food crops and in turn, contribute to achieving sustainable food systems and healthy and diverse diets.
Statistics show that the number of undernourished people in the world reached an estimated 821 million in 2017. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the numbers have been on the rise in Southern Africa in recent years, and despite reaching its lowest levels in 2010, it is also increasing once more in Eastern Africa. Climate variability and extremes have been identified as a major reason for the increase.
The seed industry has a vital role to play in helping farmers to adapt to climatic challenges while simultaneously raising production levels. However, while three-quarters of the companies have active breeding programs, for the majority of crops the youngest variety on offer is over three years old. This raises the question as to whether the industry’s response to rapidly changing climatic conditions is sufficient.
Majority of companies report that maize is the main business driver in the region, both in terms of breeding and sales, raising concerns about the ability of smallholder farmers to access a broad range of varieties of other important food crops, and in turn contribute to achieving sustainable food systems and supporting healthy and diverse diets.
Extension and training activities, aimed at helping farmers to adopt improved seeds, are geographically imbalanced, covering significantly fewer countries than sales.
Apart from maize, farmers in the East Africa region also breed legumes more regularly than vegetables, with only three of the six specialized vegetable companies demonstrating broad breeding programs in the region.