Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has included TEFF grain, which is a dual purpose crop used both for human consumption and livestock feed, as the newest crop on its research list.
TEFF fine grain, originally from Ethiopia and Eritrea which has also become a popular health food in the global market, comes in a variety of colours from white and red to dark brown and whose flour is commonly known to make ‘Enjera”, a fermented flat bread with a slightly spongy texture.
KALRO has so far trained trainers (ToTs) who include extension officers, service providers and lead farmers from Marsabit County on TEFF value chain and the County has pioneered its production and is the only one that has prioritized TEFF value chain under the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) with support from Government and World Bank.
According to Dr. Felister Makini, the Deputy Director General, Crops at KALRO, TEFF, a super food because of its high nutritive value and rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, is a crop of all times, a reliable low risk crop especially at times when other crops such as maize and sorghum fail due to adverse weather.
Further, she said that it has relative tolerance to pests and diseases, adapts well to various cropping systems and rotation schemes, has a long shelf life even under traditional storage systems and has minimal post-harvest loses, since the grains suffers less from storage pests such as weevils.
“This crop also matures in 45-60 days, thus playing a critical role in building resilience among the farming communities especially in the ASAL region,” she explained
Dr. Makini says that to crown it all, TEFF is a quick fix for holding down bare soil thus minimizing erosion as a permanent ground cover and is a cheap source of livestock feed.
In terms of its advantage, the Deputy Director General noted that TEFF grain is gluten free and has a low glycaemic index characterized by slow release-type starches, making it ideal for patients who suffer from the gluten protein allergies, diabetic or anemic patients, among other nutritional benefits.
She however noted that although TEFF is a healthy super food, the yields in Kenya are very low at 1 ton/ha in farmers’ fields compared to the worlds average of 3 tons/ha but has a potential of 6 tons/ha.
This, she explained, is due to lack of attention by the global and national scientific community, adding that other challenges include unavailability of certified seeds, lodging, and low grain and biomass yields.
Farmers, Dr. Makini further explained, have also been using poor agronomic practices and inadequate post-harvest technologies, thus at the tail end of production, farmers were faced with poor markets and marketing information systems and limited knowledge on its management.
When it comes to research, she noted, KALRO Katumani has now developed 10 high yielding Teff varieties which include Marsabit 1, Marsabit 2, Lusike white, KisTeff 1, AilaRed, KIM-1, KIM-2, KisTeff 2, KIB-26 and KIB-27, which are in the process of registration following validation trials in parts of Northern Kenya.
These KALRO varieties, Dr. Makini said, include high yielding and dwarf varieties capable of withstanding lodging and are easy to handle.
She said in addition, KALRO is exploring mechanization with the hope of reducing costs of labour and production.
Trials on mechanization are ongoing at Katumani, Machakos and KALRO will also provide information on markets and marketing information soon.
Currently, there is a search for new tastes and new culinary sensations in food industries of affluent nations and towards this end, KALRO is researching on diversification of Teff food products to meet consumer tastes, she added.
Rachel Kisilu, the Lead Research Scientist and Plant Breeder at KALRO said although Teff is a new crop which is grown mainly in the ASALs, the driest parts of Kenya, its potential saw them come up with research to evaluate, develop and also improve raw use and come up with good and better varieties which can reach high potential yields for farmer’s consumption.
“Teff is a potential crop, very drought tolerant, maturing and highly nutritive and also apart from being used as human food, it is also used by animals,” she said.
Kisilu explained that they realized that farmers were getting very low yields of 0.3 tons per hectare, yet Teff has high potential, with some varieties producing even 4 tons per hectare.
“Teff crop has no seed systems, there is no improved seed for it in the country. This is the first time we are going to release varieties for the farming communities in Kenya and through that we are going to have a good seed system whereby farmers can access quality seeds of the improved varieties so that they can increase their yields,” she said.
At the same time, Kisilu explained that due to the low rainfall in the Northern Kenya which is poorly distributed, Teff would be good as it only needs 300ml of rain for one month and two months to yield and within 60 days you will be able to harvest.
She said that they have been able to select 36 varieties, which they were evaluating and out of that, they have selected 11 good lines which would be taken to KEPHIS to be planted next week, through the National Performance Trials (NPTs) and later be evaluated for eventual release.
“We are sure that by the end of this year, we will have new varieties released to farmers and with good agronomic practices and the packaging of good planting technologies, the seed rate for Teff will be 4kgs to 6kgs per acre,” Kisilu said, noting that the delivery of practical benefits of Teff value chain to farmers would further secure their food and nutritional security.
She noted that although the Teff grain is usually used by the farming communities for flour to make ‘Enjera,’ the fermented pancake as the main food, KALRO is coming up with a value addition manual for Teff.
“We have been able to come up with more than 20 value added food products from Teff, starting with porridge cakes, ugali which the communities even never thought they could get from Teff, thus we will soon publish a food value addition manual for Teff, whereby farmers and other stakeholders can come up with diversified food products from it,” Kisilu said.
According to the researchers, Teff can be grown and adapts to a wide range of altitudes from sea level up to 3000m above sea level, as well as different agro-ecological zones and edaphic conditions.
The crop also thrives well in arid areas with rainfall as little as 300mm and in temperatures of 15-35 degree Celsius, on various soils. It has also reasonable tolerance to both low and high moisture stresses.
By Wangari Ndirangu