Farmers in Ukambani region are adopting new maize seed varieties that are tolerant to drought, making the area that has been synonymous with hunger over the years food secure.
Joyce Matheka, a farmer, says the best thing that happened to her is the KDV4 maize seed variety from which she is eyeing bumper harvest.
“The indigenous maize variety that I always planted in this farm could not withstand harsh weather, making it difficult for us to produce enough food to feed our family,” the mother of eight told the Business Daily in an interview at her farm in Makueni.
Farmers in the region are embracing the KDV4 seed, which is an open pollinated variety that matures within 110 days in the field. This variety is suitable for dry mid altitude regions and it produces about 44 bags per hectare.
Farmers in Makueni had been planting a local variety known as Kikamba, which would hardly yield a bag of 90 kilogrammes. This variety not only gives low yields, but it cannot withstand drought, which is a common in the area.
However, things changed once she adopted the improved varieties that are suitable in this ecological condition.
Ms Matheka’s story represents hundreds of farmers in the region who have been grappling with crop failure every year, forcing them to rely on relief food for survival.
“I no longer rely on aid because I produce enough to feed my family and sell the surplus to meet other needs,’ she said.
Stephen Mugo, the principal scientist at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) says the new maize seed variety is best suited for regions with erratic rains and is key to food security.
“It is time that we adopted varieties that are stress free as a country, not only in the low land region but also in the highlands.
“This KDV4 is a good example of how the country can manage the challenges of food shortages,” he said.
Dr Mugo says the CIMMYT is working with seed companies to introduce highland variety that can withstand harsh conditions in different regions.
Seed companies normally produce hybrid varieties that are high yielding and appropriate for highland regions, however, these seed varieties cannot perform well if rains fail.
Over the past 10 years, more than 200 hybrid seed varieties have been developed but farmers still have no access to them due to financial constraint.