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Economy

Orphan crops adopted in fight against maize disease

A healthy sorghum crop. The acreage under sorghum in the Rift Valley rose from 9,960 to 13,677 hectares in the last two years. File
A healthy sorghum crop. The acreage under sorghum in the Rift Valley rose from 9,960 to 13,677 hectares in the last two years. File 

The government has supplied North Rift farmers with seeds of indigenous crops in a drive meant to contain a viral disease that hit maize output last season.

The supply of 70 tonnes of sorghum, finger millet, beans, green-grams, cowpeas, and cassava cuttings is intended to help break the rapid spread of Maize Lethal Necrosis.

Farmers in Bomet, Sotik, and Narok districts have received seeds worth Sh10.4 million to help them halt resurgence of the disease which has been reported in the South Rift too.

Maize production in Rift Valley dropped by nearly 20 per cent, from 21 million bags in 2011 to 17 million bags last season, partly because of the disease.

The reduced harvest threatens the country’s food security. The viral disease attacked maize in parts of the region after farmers disregarded the advice of experts who had urged them not to cultivate the crop.

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The government will also distribute seeds of the orphan crops to farmers in arid and semi-arid parts of Kajiado, Turkana, West Pokot, Baringo, and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties.

The acreage under sorghum in the Rift Valley increased from 9,960 to 13,677 hectares while production improved from 18,740 to 146,180 bags in the last two years.

Besides provision of seeds, cultivation of the crop is being propped up by a ready market as beer brewers turn to sorghum.

“Orphan crops will soon become income generating ventures for most farmers because they are more resistant to drought compared to other crops,” said Mr Wilson Lang’at, an agricultural extension officer in Nandi County.

Mr Lang’at said that Rift Valley aims to produce 316,886 bags of sorghum annually, with acreage under cultivation increasing to over 24,000 hectares.

Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei assured farmers of adequate seeds and fertiliser even as researchers search for disease resistant maize varieties.

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