Star Farmers
By Farmbiz | Mon 27 Feb, 2012

Farmers in Marsabit are paying a heavy price for innovation following this season’s efforts to equip them with new, higher yielding maize seeds. It was not the first time the seeds had been distributed, but it was the first time since rains failed, and required completely different planting in order to deliver a successful crop. The change in farming methods, after decades of sowing traditional maize seeds, saw a majority of farmers apply old methods to the new seeds, resulting in complete crop failure, and writing in a further year of food insecurity, even after the drought has broken. “While some of the farmers followed the instructions, the majority failed to follow the instructions, especially on spacing, and others planted late,” according to Dub Nurra, Assistant Agricultural Officer Marsabit. The farmers, who have not understood the reason for their crop failures, believe they were given the wrong seed, claiming the maize seeds distributed to them were suited to high altitude areas, and not arid and semi-arid areas. They also claim they were never given instructions on how to plant the new type of seed. Edin Ibrahim, a farmer in Marsabit said the emphasis in information as the seeds were distributed was on the poison used to treat the maize seeds in a bid to curb locals from using the seeds as food. This message overshadowed the planting instructions seeing farmers plant the maize seeds as they had always done. Those who had been relying on relief food additionally seized the opportunity to plant as many seeds as possible in small spaces, so as to maximize the harvest. The farmers were given the DH4 (Dryland hybrid variety), DH2 and PH4 (Pwani hybrid), which require planting at spacing of 75cms by 30cms to 90cms by 30cms, depending on the variety. The seeds are all high yielding, and most appropriate for the arid and semi arid areas, and can yield more than twice the local variety and Katumani, according to Marsabit District Director for KARI, Dr. Simon Kuria. KARI has tested and approved the varieties, which promise good returns, but only if farmers adhere to the necessary instructions for spacing and early planting. The Marsabit farmers who planted early and followed the one seed per hole instructions along with proper spacing are already waiting for their maize to dry, said Nurra. However, farmers, who overlooked these instructions, may as well expect little or no harvest at all, he said. He absolved the Ministry of Agriculture from any blame for the misplanting. The Ministry made an effort to distribute the high yielding maize varieties to the farmers long before the onset of the rain. But he acknowledged that not all farmers may have received the necessary instructions. “We did our best, but since they have been planting these varieties for the last three seasons, they ought to have mastered the necessary requirements.” The farmers also may not have received the necessary information due to the large areas to be served by extension officers, poor communication networks, and few extension officers, he said. Moreover, for the last three seasons, farmers have not harvested much in the district, due to failed rains, meaning that where farmers had never followed the instructions, they didn’t have a chance to learn from the experience. “The last time we received enough rain was about five years ago and even the 2009 rain was not enough. We have experienced a series of crop failures,” said Dr. Kuria. The chronic lack of rain and constant crop failures also saw many farmers abandon farming altogether over the last five years. “We have not had enough rain for the last five years and many farmers got tired of constant crop failure after investing their time and resources in it and most farmers thought it was just another round of disappointment,” said Dr. Kuria, “and by the time they realized that the rain was enough and rushed to plant, it was late.” The long rainy season is expected to start midMarch, offering a second chance for planting, but historically the season is not so good for planting in arid and semi arid areas, said Dr. Kuria. Thus, with the short rain passed and long rain not so opportune for planting in the region, the maize planting failure may now mean another year of food shortages and food aid in the area. The mismatch between the seed’s potential and the results for the area’s farmers may also have longer term implications. With some farmer’s mistakenly attributing the failure to being given the wrong seed varieties, the trust of locals in the high yielding varieties has been broken, with most now skeptical of official claims that they can perform well in the region. Galgallo, a farmer in Sagante area, is a farmer who planted the seeds provided by the Ministry without following the right spacing. His maize is yet to even flower and he vows he will never make such a mistake again. He represents hundreds of farmers who may never again try the high yielding seeds, due to a lack of proper information, creating a new resistance to the high performing seed varieties. The region’s potential as a grain basket is additionally being threatened by the shift of farmers to Mirra planting, which offers higher financial returns than traditional low-yielding maize. Written by Galgallo Fayo for African Laughter

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