Many farmers are in dilemma as the planting season approaches amid drought that is devastating the country. Brian Okinda spoke to KASSIM OWINO the managing director of Agri SeedCo Ltd and the vice-chairman, Seed Trade Association of Kenya, on the drought, fake seeds and what farmers should look out for from seed manufacturers.
The planting season is drawing closer as drought ravages the country, what advice can you offer farmers to ensure there is food sufficiency?
They should focus on early land preparation in anticipation of the rains and invest in certified seeds that are specific to their geographic regions.
For example, farmers based in dry areas should acquire seeds that are drought-tolerant and fast-maturing.
The weather has become erratic that some areas that used to get heavy rainfall are no longer at ease. What are seed companies doing to keep up with the changing weather patterns?
Seed companies like ourselves are investing more on research and producing seeds that are tolerant to specific climatic conditions.
Sometime back, we worked with Ukambani farmers and produced a drought-tolerant maize variety that is doing well in the region.
We are developing seeds that are suitable to various regions amid the changing weather pattern.
Competition in the seeds sector is high following new entrants, including yourself, but why are prices not going down to reflect this?
Seed production is an undertaking that requires huge resources. With the high production capital needed, unfortunately the costs have to trickle down to the farmer too.
Electricity, fuel and manpower are some of the expenses we deal with and farmers in turn feel the effects of these albeit to a minimum.
The seed grower base also want better returns for their supply hence the prices have to be the way they are to make the requisite profitable returns.
Despite that, Kenya boasts of the best seed prices compared to other countries in Eastern Africa, favouring farmers in the region, according to research.
How do smallholder farmers stand to gain from the new maize seed research and production facility thatAgri Seedco Kenya has set up in Kitale?
For a while, maize production in Kitale, which is the country’s breadbasket seemed to have reached plateau phase in terms of production.
We figured out that this could be due to ‘tired’ soils or ‘tired’ seeds. That is why we set the facility to help boost yields.
Farmers in the region stand to gain from new seed varieties brought closer to them, extension services, demonstrations and improved and certified seeds are readily accessible.
There will also be employment to the residents of the region.
Search for seeds that can defeat Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), the biggest threat to the crop, has not borne fruit despite many promises from researchers and seed companies. Why is it taking long to come up with a variety that is resistant to the disease to save farmers from losses?
It is a misconception that the search for the seeds to defeat the disease isn’t bearing fruit.
Currently, we have two breeders and researchers working on six maize varieties that are resistant to MLND.
They haven’t been released into the market but are in the final stages of assessing their viability, with the preliminary results showing great success in fighting the disease.
We will release those seed varieties next year, so there is hope for farmers against MLND.
Some farmers still use farm-saved seeds during planting, what advice do you offer them?
Using farm-saved seeds depends on the crops the farmer is growing.
For open-pollinated crops, use of such seeds is to an extent possible but for hybrid crops, the farmer should acquire new, certified and disease-free seeds each planting season.
Using farm-saved seeds is, however discouraged because one can plant infected material.
Fake seeds pose challenges to farmers but despite adoption of SMS technology by seed companies to fight them, the problem persists. What are seed companies, which are losing revenue, not doing right?
Fraudulent seed makers have been the second largest seed manufacturers in the country after Kenya Seed Company as they sell fake products to unknowing farmers.
We are, however, working on strategies to curb the menace. At Agri Seedco, our products contain labels that are unique to us and can’t be replicated.
Our seeds have our unique ingredient, a Royal Sparkle added to them, which isn’t available to any other manufacturer, through which customers can identify the authentic seeds.
We also have seed authenticity identification stickers through partnership with Kenya Plant health inspectorate Service and the Ministry of Agriculture.