Technology key in fighting drought, food shortage

Friday April 28 2017

Tony Gathungu, Monsanto’s Regional Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tony Gathungu, Monsanto’s Regional Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa during the interview in their offices in Nairobi. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BRIAN OKINDA
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Tony Gathungu, Monsanto’s Regional Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, highlights how research and technology helps to curb drought and crop diseases and pests

The last five years have been bad for maize farmers in Kenya. From droughts to Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) and now the fall armyworm menace. What options does the maize farmer have?

Threats to maize farmers have been on the rise, with the droughts, pests especially the fall armyworm and the about 65 types of maize diseases known.

Maize farmers can redeem themselves through research and technological innovations, which have yielded solutions such as better hybrid seeds that are tolerant to these conditions.

Extension services to sensitise farmers on best farming practices and curbing the menaces, are also vital. Farmers should also plant varieties that mature early

What can the government do to prevent armyworm infestation?

The government should invest more in research and extension services to facilitate adoption of solutions used in other countries that are facing similar situations.

It should also reach out to farmers advising them on the best farming practices and what pests and diseases to look out for.

However, farmers should avoid recycling seeds as they might transfer other pests and diseases to the next crop.

Drip irrigation, crop rotation and conservation agriculture are among other viable measures to take.

Farmers should embrace other crops especially the hardy quick-maturing ones particularly in the prevailing harsh conditions.

You have come up with improved maize seed varieties. Are they cushioned from MLND?

We have four maize varieties in Kenya. They are DK8031, DKC80-33, DKC90-89 and DK777. They are all well adapted to different ecological conditions and thrive, with maximum yields.

Our latest variety, DK777 however is tolerant to MLND and Diplodia, while flourishing and producing high yields.

What are you as an organisation doing to alleviate food insecurity, with regards to provision of the requisite farming inputs?

We offer certified hybrid seeds and other farming inputs. We partner with NGOs to enable farmers access loans to procure farming inputs, providing insurance so that incase of crop failure, farmers can get replacement seeds from us freely, engage in subsidy programmes with governments to ensure farmers access seeds and other inputs inexpensively and also providing sample materials for farmers.

We supply maize seeds (Dekalb), vegetable seeds (Seminis) and Herbicides (Roundup), among others. We also facilitate extension services for farmers. All our products have specific benefits for farmers.

There have been debates by people on adopting genetically engineered crops. What is your take on the issue?

As population increases, farming land becomes less hence we should embrace sustainable technology to help boost our yields.

The products are safe for consumption and the environment too. However, currently we have no genetically engineered products in the country.