The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in collaboration with partners has developed new finger millet varieties to boost production and meet the rising demand for the cereal in the country.
The new varieties are set to scale up yields and to address the gap in production which has dropped from 126,000 metric tons in 2014 to 72,000 metric tons in 2018. The decline in production has led to less trade opportunities, minimal consumption and limited potential of the crop to enhance livelihoods of farmers.
Speaking in Kisumu during a training for farmers from Bomet and Kericho counties, KALRO Director General (DG) Eliud Kireger attributed the decline in production to limited knowledge, on the available improved varieties as well as unavailability of quality seeds. Furthermore, the DG indicated that poor crop management practices, lack of organized markets and low investment in the crop by the government and development partners was also to blame for the current poor yields.
Kireger revealed that through the World Bank funded Kenya Climate Smart Project (KSCAP), KALRO has developed new technologies and a value chain to enable farmers reap maximum benefits out of finger millet production. “The developed varieties are ideal for low to mid-altitude and medium to high altitude environments, and farmers stand to harvest on average 1033 kg/ha up from 278 kg/ha.” He said.
The DG also pointed out that through the interventions, the crop has demonstrated high grain and forage yields with less inputs compared to other cereals. “With the improved varieties we are encouraging adoption of good agronomic practices such as planting in rows, use of fertilizer and recipe utilization to increase production, trade and consumption,” he said.
Kericho and Bomet Counties, he said, are implementing finger millet value chain development through the KSCAP project, adding that the trained farmers are expected to cascade the knowledge to the grassroots. “The farmers are expected to establish Farmer Field Business Schools (FFBS) comprising 20-30 members in three of the participating wards in the two counties.” He said.
Kireger also noted that the program shall directly reach about 360 farmers in the two counties who will in turn train others in the community. “The ripple effect will build the capacity of thousands of farmers in Kericho and Bomet and other counties in finger millet farming as a business in a climate smart context,” he exlained.