Grain farmers in the North Rift are shifting to barley and sorghum following an assured market and better prices. The upshot will be a reduction in the acreage under maize and wheat, which have traditionally been the dominant crops.
Mr George Kili, a large scale farmer in Soy, Uasin Gishu County, said he ventured into barley production due to its better and guaranteed returns.
“The prices are between Sh3,300 and Sh3,600 per bag, depending on quality. We started with a small acreage but drastically increased it from 2013,” he said.
Mr Kili has been contracted by a brewer and is, therefore, assured of a ready market. Over the past four years, he has doubled the acreage under barley from 200 to 400.
Another farmer, Mr Samuel Cheruiyot from lower Moiben, who has over 100 acres of barley, says the returns are much better than from wheat and maize.
“I used to grow maize and wheat but for the past two years, I have switched to barley, owing to growing demand by beer making firms,” he said.
Maize and wheat prices have in the past four years fluctuated due to supply and demand factors.
While the prices of barley and sorghum have remained constant, the cost of a 90kg bag of maize and wheat have, on average, been Sh3,000 and Sh3,200, respectively.
The main barley growing areas are Naivasha, Molo, Narok, Nakuru and Laikipia.
The market prices are determined by beer brewing companies, depending on moisture and nitrogen content.
Kenya produces an estimated 500,000 tonnes of wheat against an annual consumption of a million tonnes, forcing the country to import the deficit, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
The Ministry of Agriculture projects harvests of 32.8 million bags of wheat, down from 37.1 last year — a decline of 11.5 per cent.
Maize production is forecast to drop by 4.3 million bags this year, owing to delayed rains and the recent army worm attack.
Last month, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said most farmers had reduced the acreage under wheat in favour of maize.
Cereal growers have in the past threatened to abandon wheat farming, accusing the government of favouring foreigners at the expense of local producers.
Agriculture experts and economists warn that flooding the local market with imported wheat has also compromised the quality of the produce and discouraged wheat farmers.