Low adoption of hybrid seeds is hampering food production with yields declining every year by at least 10 per cent, findings by a think tank show.
The study by Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy shows that for every one acre of maize that is planted by small scale farmers, only 0.72 per cent of the seeds used are hybrid.
Tegemeo noted that despite the acreage under maize going up yearly, this has not helped in increasing production in Kenya.
“The result of not using hybrid seeds is that yields drop by at least 10 per cent even though the total acreage of land under maize in the country is increasing,” said Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at Tegemeo.
In the last 10 years, more than 200 hybrid seed varieties have been developed, but farmers still have no access to them due to financial constraints.
Some of the challenges that the farmers said they face is the high cost of the seeds, counterfeit seed in the market as well as sentimental attachments to local open pollinated seed varieties, which they obtain from the previous crop.
Agriculture principal secretary Richard Lesiyampe said maize production in Kenya has been hampered by low inputs use and poor agronomic practices.
“Adoption of improved seed varieties is recognised as a key driver in improving productivity and addressing food security. But the farmers are not using these inputs adequately thus leading to low food production,” said Dr Lesiyampe.
“Kenya farmers depend on both formal and informal seed systems, with the later accounting for over 80 per cent of total seed used in the country. Increasing productivity of small and medium scale farmers requires a well-functioning seed system, “he added.
Kenya seed requirement for maize alone is about 35,000 metric tonnes per annum, which the local production companies are able to meet.
The effect of low productivity in the country is that Kenya has been forced to import maize every year from the neighbouring state to meet the needs of consumers.
Currently, Tanzania has restricted export of maize while Uganda did not register a good crop in the last season, with the little that is available finding its way to South Sudan where it fetches a good price, leaving Kenya at crossroads on how fill the gap.