KENYA – Kenyan farmers in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) regions can now access drought-tolerant seeds after the success of a USAID project designed to increase agricultural production, processing, and marketing of seeds for Drought Tolerant Crops (DTC).
Under the Kenya Crop Dairy Market Systems (KCDMS), the project contracted more than 300 community growers to work under its umbrella, which so far has produced over 20 metric tons of drought-tolerant seeds, particularly green grams and cowpeas.
According to Kenya News Agency, the seeds can be supplied to at least 20,000 farmers in the Eastern region, the largest ASAL region in the country.
Jane Biashara, market systems lead for the KCDMS project in the Eastern region said that they were working with seed merchants to cushion farmers against the skyrocketing microeconomic shocks.
The project region covers Makueini, Kitui, and Taita Taveta counties.
She explained that when they came in, production was below one ton per year but through the training of about 120 seed growers in partnership with KALRO and KEPHIS, they were able to produce DTC seeds on over 336 acres of land.
Biashara said that the five-year USAID-funded project started in 2018 as a major project for agriculture but was distracted by drought and the Ukraine war, prompting the USAID to extend the project for another eight (8) months but is now almost winding.
John Kimanthi, a beneficiary and Executive Director of Unyamandu Seed Merchant in Kitui Rural sub-County told KNA that as a group that started way back in 2009 decided to become a seed-producing CBO to increase food security.
After inception, Kimathi stated that the CBO was registered by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) as a seed merchant and has taken up production of climate-smart seeds to cushion farmers against climate change shocks.
He added that seed producers work closely with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) which has licensed them to use their breeder materials to produce seeds.
“We have been licensed by KALRO to produce the green gram-Karembo variety and the Biashara variety. We also produce cowpea-K8 varieties,” he added.
He explained that they train seed-out growers and credited seeds to them and once they are approved by KEPHIS they are harvested, cleaned, and packed in branded bags of 2000 grams.
According to him, Kephis issues an identification sticker that farmers use to verify the full details of the seed, the variety, the class, and the company that has processed it for authenticity purposes.
The partnership with the USAID, Kimathi explained, has also seen the capacity of seed growers strengthened through training and continuous mentorship with most farmers who used to get about two bags of green grams now averaging about four bags due to the training.