Egerton University is planning to recruit over 1,000 farmers in five counties who will be contracted to grow improved pigeon pea seeds varieties.
Farmers who will be retained in the selected counties will also benefit from seed production training from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid tropics (ICRISAT) under the United States Feed the Future – Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) programme.
The university released three varieties –Egerton Mbaazi 1, 2 and 3 – in 2020- after a seven-year research process.
Under the seed multiplication programme, ICRISAT will distribute seeds to the farmers, while Egerton University will purchase the seeds.
According to senior agronomist and seed system specialist with the University Bernard Towett the seed multiplication programme will be extended to Elgeyo Marakwet, Turkana, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi and Machakos counties after successful trials in Makueni County.
Mr Towett observed that over reliance on traditional legume varieties has denied farmers high production and improved incomes, a situation he said had been aggravated by limited research by local research institutions.
“When the new varieties were released, we resorted to contract farming because of the huge demand for improved seed varieties. The university settled for Makueni due to the favourable weather, where 41 farmers were contracted to produce the seeds, which we buy at Sh100 per kilo. This is being done through the Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Programme (AVCDP), which is funded by USAID-Feed the Future,” he said.
The drought-tolerant crops value chains component is being implemented by ICRISAT.
ICRISAT is working on several drought-tolerant crops including pigeon peas, green grams, sorghum, finger millet and groundnuts, while Egerton is involved in training farmers, research and the seed system.
Mr Towett indicated that the AVCDP programme has three components of livestock, Irish potatoes and drought-tolerant crops.
He said getting seeds for the drought-tolerant crops has been a big challenge in Kenya and that pigeon peas have been neglected for a while.
“But they are now coming up and are expensive to buy in the market, hence the reason they are called high-value crops,” Towett explained.
He said though demand for pigeon pea seeds is huge, not much research has been done to improve planting material.
“The new high yielding seed varieties mature earlier at four months and are more resistant to pests and diseases when compared to the local variety that takes up to 10 months. This enables at least three harvests per season as compared to the traditional variety that experiences terminal drought due to late maturing,” stated the seed specialist.
In addition to the pigeon peas, Mr Towett said the university plans to introduce improved variety sorghum and green grams as it enters into contractual agreements with farmers in other regions.
He confirmed that the university released drought tolerant and high yielding EU sorghum variety.
Based on the contract farming agreement with the university, Towett explained that farmers will sell a kilogramme of sorghum at Sh50.
According to official data from Egerton University, annual production of sorghum worldwide stands at 63.08 million tonnes, with Africa yielding 20 million tonnes, while Kenya produces 140,000 tonnes from 224, 000 hectares with an approximate yield of 750 kg per 2.5 acres.
By Jane Ngugi and Hellen Kivaya