Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) has urged farmers in the dry zones of Kitui County to plant certified drought seed varieties for better yields.
Speaking during a farmers’ field day at Kitui Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) Friday, KEPHIS Managing Director Dr. Esther Kimani said by using seeds specifically bred for Kitui ecological zone, the farmers could realize increased yields despite erratic rainfall patterns in the region.
“Today we are demonstrating to local farmers that it is possible for them to increase their crop production and become food secure regardless of the county’s aridity,” she said.
Dr. Kimani said KEPHIS had in conjunction with agriculture-biased state agencies, developed seed varieties for the dry region including maize, sorghum, millet, green grams, beans, peas, paw paws, mangoes and vegetables among others.
“We are keen to ensure that Kitui farmers get quality certified seeds that can do well under minimal rainfall as part of the government’s efforts to make the country food secure and minimize food imports,” she added.
The MD further noted that KEPHIS had introduced a short code service to enable farmers determine the authenticity of seeds in the market.
“The certified seed packages bear unique codes which farmers can scan or SMS to KEPHIS for verification thereby locking out fake seeds which subject farmers to losses,” revealed the MD.
Dr. Kimani said that farmers should buy seeds from companies that are registered with KEPHIS as either seed merchants or sellers.
“To verify its authenticity, one should ensure that the packet bears a KEPHIS sticker label that one should scratch and send the number underneath through SMS to 1393, after which, one will establish the seed variety, the producer and the lot number,” she stated.
The MD added that once a farmer has purchased seeds, they should not throw away the receipt and packaging material for if the planted seed fails to germinate, one should make a report to KEPHIS, upon which a follow up will be done using the evidence.
She observed that through this process and the Mulika Mbegu Mbovu campaign, KEPHIS has been able to reduce the level of fake seeds in the market from 40 to 3 percent.
Dr. Kimani urged the county government and the farmers to help in the fight against fake seeds by reporting culprits to KEPHIS offices.
The MD said that due to climate change which has resulted in extremely low rainfall and high temperatures, the new crop varieties are set to withstand the same, as KEPHIS has released high yielding varieties of finger millet, green grams, cowpeas and vegetables suitable for the semi- arid Kitui ecological zone.
Director of Policy and Innovation in the Ministry of Agriculture Gioche Mwangi said the government has invested immensely in water provision across the country to promote irrigation farming.
“We are aware that certified seeds and rain-fed farming alone cannot provide a comprehensive solution to food insecurity in this country. That is why the government is constructing mega dams across Kenya in order to expand our irrigated lands,” said Mwangi.
The Policy Director urged farmers to embrace drought tolerant crop varieties and sustainable farming technologies for nutrition and food security.
He said that the improved varieties of drought tolerant crops, which had been introduced by KEPHIS and the county government can withstand less rainfall and mature faster.
Kitui County Commissioner John Ondego urged area residents to grow crops such as green grams and cassava as their prices are affordable and they are ideal for requisite nutrition.
Ondego disclosed that the national government is planning to fast track the completion of Umaa and Thwake dams with a view to starting irrigation farming so as to improve on crop and livestock production.
By Yobesh Onwong’a