Turn Kenya farms yellow with maize for food security



The rains are here with us, and with it, an opportunity to sow the seeds for a bounty harvest around November.

Whereas El Niño preps appear to be all the rave, recently, my mind couldn’t help but reminisce on the good old days growing up in the village and the mixed feelings accompanying the onset of the rains.

We may have taken a few steps back as agricultural production is dwindling compared to population growth. Lower agricultural production effectively leads to food insecurity and food inflation.

In my role at Kenya’s leading milling enterprise, I am filled with sadness on the few occasions when I have to join my colleagues in approving purchase orders for imported raw materials such as maize and wheat, among other cereals and pulses that underpin the Unga brand.

Had we kept the agricultural pace we maintained in my primary school days, and with the technological, mechanisation and crop husbandry advances we’ve made over the years, there would be no reason to import our staple foods.

According to the Economic Survey 2023, the quantity of maize imported rose to 793.8 thousand metric tonnes in 2022 against a local production base of 150.8 thousand metric tonnes.

The volume of wheat production in 2022 stood at 270.7 thousand tonnes in 2022, while wheat imports hovered at around 1.7 million tonnes last year.

This means we are importing more than five times the value of any staple produce we eat. I get excited when I see government strategies focusing on agricultural transformation. Kenya has significant arable land resources, and this wanton importation of staple foods must be contained by resetting and retooling our agricultural production endeavours.

Whereas increased production is one avenue to pursue, we must also diversify our production to cover crops such as soybeans and yellow maize.

Growing these crops would provide a good foundation for food security ideals by reducing the competition for the scarce and expensive white maize for human and animal feed production.

This would bring down the cost of animal feeds and positively impact efforts to lower the cost of maize flour. 

Yellow maize has multiple uses, including animal feed and industrial other purposes.

When maize prices for human consumption surge, farmers can divert their yellow maize to the animal feed or industrial sectors, stabilising the overall market.

Yellow maize is rich in essential nutrients like vitamin A and beta-carotene, which are crucial to maintaining a healthy population.

By encouraging its consumption, the government can address malnutrition issues while reducing the pressure on white maize prices.

Interestingly, yellow maize is regarded as a poor man’s crop, associated with food aid and reserved as livestock feed. This negative perception can be changed through educational campaigns on its nutritional value to enhance local production and encourage social acceptability.

To fully realise the potential of yellow maize in achieving price stability, the government needs to invest in research, providing farmers with improved varieties that are high-yielding and disease-resistant.

The writer is the MD at Unga Group PLC.

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