Why maize is giving way to oat farming in Laikipia


Evans Gichuhi, an oat farmer at Rumathi Village, OlKalou Constituency, Nyandarua County. FILE PHOTO | NMG

For years, John Mwangi grew maize in Laikipia West to feed his family and sell surplus to markets nearby.

However, with time, Mr Mwangi, just like his fellow villagers, has shifted from maize to oat farming, which gives higher returns.

“The crop is grown and harvested three times in a year, giving farmers more returns compared to maize which you only plant and harvest in one season annually,” he said.

Mr Mwangi and his neighbours join the league of other farmers in Nyandarua and Laikipia Counties who are now embracing oat farming and have started dumping potatoes and maize crops that have dominated the region for decades.

Though oat farming is a relatively new venture in the region, Enterprise has noted that numerous farmers are for it.

Among the areas where farmers have entered into oat farming are Murungaru, Engineer, Magumu and Njambini in Kinangop Sub-County.

Others are Kaimbaga, Silanga and Passenga in Ol Kalou constituency while in Ndaragua, oat growing is now popular in Shamata and Kaheho.

In Laikipia County, a county famous for maize growing, farmers have taken up the enterprise in parts of Rumuruti, Pesi, Igwamiti, Marmanet and Gatundia in Laikipia West.

A 70 Kg bag of oat seed goes for between Sh,500 and 4,500 while a bail of the product retails at Sh400, making the fodder the green gold of the area.

Francis Thairu, a farmer in Shamata notes that if oat farming is enhanced, the county’s earnings and food production will go up.

“Oats grown on a quarter of an acre can feed a single dairy animal for one hundred days,” notes Mr Thairu.

He adds that an acre of potatoes in the region earns farmers an average of Sh40,000 which, according to him, is way too low compared to inputs and labour costs.

“A bag of oats goes for an average of Sh4,000 with an acre having the potential to yield 30 bags. Besides being vulnerable to frost, most potato farmers are exploited by middlemen particularly during a glut,” adds Mr Thairu.

Another farmer, George Ndung’u, says the crop should be embraced by low income farmers as it is not costly as “you do not use artificial fertilisers but manure”.

According to Ol Kalou Sub County livestock production officer Samuel Kariuki, the climate in the entire region is favourable for oat farming which performs well in high altitude areas of 1,200 metres above sea level.

“Potato farming which was a dominant agricultural activity in this region is no longer profitable. It is a labour intensive enterprise that requires costly farm inputs,” he says.

Mr Kariuki adds that excess rainfall and frost have led to heavy losses for potato farmers, noting that oat are very resistant to adverse weather conditions.

Nyandarua County Executive for Agriculture, Dr James Karitu notes that oat is the best crop to rotate with potatoes.

He urges farmers to embrace value addition in of the crop to earn more.

“The crop is the best crop to rotate with potatoes as it is a very great quality and high yielding fodder. We support the enterprise as it is boosting dairy and beef industry in our county,” he says.

The county executive tells Enterprise that farmers in the region are quickly realising that agribusiness is the way to go.

He assures farmers that the county is committed to work on strategies that will enable them to add value and market the crop.