Kenyan scientists in “race against time” to develop climate-smart seeds



On the farm at the government research station in Kibos, western Kenya, hundreds of maize plants stand tall.

Some are, however, severely attacked by pests as others stand unscathed and are tasselling.

On this farm belonging to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Station (Kalro), the east African nation’s hope of increasing its maize production is growing.

The maize plants on the farm are under research as Kenyan scientists work harder to come up with seeds that are not only climate-smart but also resistant to pests and diseases.

It is a race against time as adverse effects of climate change manifest in Kenya.

These effects that include a rise in stubborn pests like fall armyworm and stem borer and persistent drought or excessive rains have hurt production of maize, Kenya’s staple crop.

At least every Kenyan on average consumes 103 kg of maize grains every year, making the cereal the most important food in the east African nation, according to research done by Kalro.

However, Kenya produces an average of 40 million 90 kg bags of cereal annually, with production declining from over 44 million bags due to various challenges, including the severe effects of climate change and locust infestation.

It is against this background that Kenyan scientists are working in earnest to come up with seeds that are not only resistant to pests and diseases and drought but also high-yielding.

“We have to embrace new seeds to cut the cost of production, limit diseases and boost production,” Crispin Omondi, researcher and the institute director, Kalro, Kibos, said recently.

Omondi noted that some years ago, Kenya faced a similar situation and developed a number of seeds for various crops, including maize and coffee.

For maize, most of these seeds have now been overcome by the current climatic conditions and new pests and diseases have emerged.

“Our experiment has shown that the current maize seeds in the market are not resistant to pests and diseases thus farmers have to spend more money to save their crops, which raises the cost of production,” said Omondi, who is involved in the research.

James Karanja, a bio-technologist, said the technology is among those that Kenya is banking on to come up with high-yielding maize seeds for better production.

“The odds are stuck against the farmer that we must adopt new technology. Inadequate rains, unexpectedly heavy rains, aflatoxin and pests like fall armyworms and stem borer are some of the challenges farmers in Kenya are fighting,” he noted.

According to him, the east African nation’s farmers are spending up to 12,000 shillings (about 110 United States dollars) to fight the two major pests.

“Bio-technology will help eliminate these challenges and at the same time protect the environment from harmful chemicals. In our research, we are developing seeds that yield more with fewer rain, are resistant to pests and diseases and curb aflatoxin,” said Karanja.

Elizabeth Magero, a plant inspector from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, said that farmers in the east African nation would from next year start growing a number of new climate-smart maize seeds as some research is at an advanced stage.



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