Amaranth ‘key to ending food shortage’


Mrs Mary Maina harvests Amaranth at her farm in Ng’arua in Laikipia county where farmers have switched to indigenous food crops such as amaranth, cassava due to poor weather, high farming costs and low crop prices. Suleiman Mbatiah

The Poverty Eradication Commission is fronting Amaranth as a suitable alternative to maize farming in Kenya, following the staple’s unreliable supply that has aggravated food insecurity in rural areas.

Starting next week farmers in Rarieda, Bondo, Gem and Kisumu West will be sensitised on the benefits of growing amaranth - also known as terere - which can be consumed as a grain and ground into flour, besides a wide range of health benefits. The awareness will be done at market centers like Kombewa and Got Aram.

PEC director Leonard Obadha said the promotion would be taken to other parts of the country where erratic rainfall has compromised maize harvests, increasing food poverty.

“With adequate rain, maize takes 3 months to mature while amaranth takes around two months and requires very little rain,” said Obadha.

Amaranth flour is also used in making chapati, doughnuts, uji, and ugali and has a higher nutritional value. Farmers will also be taught how to prepare different meals from Amaranth seed.

Planting the amaranth seed costs only Sh500 per acre, which can yield up to Sh20,000 in income. Amaranth flour goes for Sh200 compared to maize flour that is now sold at Sh120, for a packet of two kilogrammes. In ample supply, a packet of maize meal sells at Sh75.
Nutritionists recommend the grain for women who are breastfeeding and for management of diseases such as diabetes, tuberculosis, marasmus, and liver complications.

A Parliamentary Select Committee going round the country seeking public views on the high prices of basic commodities, has been told that the shortage of maize is one of the main causes of high food prices.

“We are aware that most Kenyans cannot afford to buy a packet of flour,” said Mr Ababu Namwamba who chairs the committee whose findings will be released next week.

Meanwhile, cassava is emerging as a solution to food shortages in Ugunja district where farmers have traditionally grown sugar cane as a cash crop, leaving them with nothing to eat when millers delay payments.

An initiative by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) through the National Farmers Union and Farm Africa has seen more farmers adopt the tuber, cushioning them from the rising cost of maize flour and vegetables.

“Farmers here grow sugar cane and are deep in debt. That affects food security significantly,” said James Onyango, a standard four drop out who is now acclaimed as the Cassava ambassador.

Mr Onyango educates farmers on the crop, extending the knowledge he has acquired from attending presentations by research institutions on the new cassava varieties that produce up to 17 tubers from one stem, compared to 3 tubers on average for traditional varieties.

Faster maturity

Cassava varieties such as Mijera, MH95 and MM96 are recommended by Kari due to their high yield, faster maturity and drought resistance. The crop also does not need fertiliser. Cassava, however, is prone to the Cassva mosaic disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Virus (CBSV) which affects about 10 per cent of the crop in the area.

Rosalinda Adikinyi, 39 has devoted her land to the crop, abandoning the popular maize and beans. “Between April and August people face starvation because the grain  has run out. At harvest prices tumble and soon there is starvation”, she says, adding a key benefit of cassava is that it can be harvested piece meal.

Harrison Okello, Nyando district crops officer, said the frequent food shortages could be alleviated by a shift in favour of meals derived from cassava and millet, which have traditionally been viewed as a poor man’s diet.

“We are living in an era where feeding on brown ugali for example are is seen as backward,” said Mr Okello.