Kenya needs a maize production masterplan to wean itself off imports


Kenya needs a maize production masterplan to wean itself off imports. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

In Kenya, maize is a peculiar and enigmatic commodity. Its narratives fill media columns. In kitchens it is the dominant high-calorie ugali meal that faithfully sustains millions of Kenyans.

Maize feeds high-octane national politics when it is unaffordable or unavailable.

It can be joy for farmers during bumper harvests, or painful tears when rains fail, or market prices are low.

For opportunistic actors maize shortfalls provide avenues for quick dollars.

Yes, maize is a national strategic subject that can accommodate a full scholarship thesis for agricultural economists.

Kenya requires a well-resourced national master plan on how to modernise maize production and marketing systems to actualise national self-sufficiency to minimise dependence on imports, while ensuring sufficient returns for all value chain players, especially the farmer.

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Guaranteed minimum returns, or published recommended prices, may be the regulatory instruments that will keep the farmer motivated.

Before we jump into biotech maize, let us firstly maximise value on local maize varieties that have been painstakingly developed by our first-class researchers.

What we urgently need is for national and county governments to invest enough budgets in field extension services to inculcate modern crop husbandry practices among our farmers.

As much as 50 percent of animal feed inputs for our fast-growing livestock sector (dairy, pork, poultry etc.) are maize products, which means ugali demands are continuously competing with animal feed demands.

Further, many farmers grow maize crop specifically for turning into silage for cattle feed.

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The crop and the livestock departments will need to jointly coordinate maize production and supplies to sufficiently meet both human and animal-feed requirements.

Much of the land under maize cultivation is equally suitable for growing oil seed crops (soya beans and sunflower) which are today all imported to meet requirements for cooking oil, and protein content for animal feeds.

Balancing the acreage under maize and oil crop production, or crop rotation between the two is critically important to balance Kenya’s requirements for maize and oil crops to minimise imports of both which are equally important for food security.

As the population grows, we must rebalance our food resources and feeding habits to specifically reduce overdependence on the maize staple.

Other starch foods (bananas, tubers, millets etc.) can be popularised and commercialised in food markets.

This will reduce pressure on maize and avoid food emergencies that end up with imports and unnecessary politics.

Though domiciled in energy sector, I am also a dairy farmer in Mathira, Nyeri County for many years.