Kenya drought: agriculture experts urge governments to deploy climate-resilient seeds 

Agriculture experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have called for an intensive scale-up of climate-resilient seeds and climate-smart innovations, including drought-tolerant seeds and soil and water conservation practices in Eastern Africa.

The call comes against rising drought impacts in Kenya and other parts of East Africa. In Kenya, farmers are eager to plant their maize seeds for the next cropping season.

However, mid-April is already here, and farmers are still waiting for the long rains, which usually arrive by mid- March. The very late onset of the rainy season could lead to a poor cropping season and significantly reduced maize yields in farmers’ fields.

To avoid this, Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT Africa regional representative, recommends that farmers shift to planting stress-resilient varieties, like early maturing maize varieties that just need 90 to 95 days to mature, instead of over four months for late maturing varieties. Seeds of such early maturing varieties are available from seed companies and agro-dealers operating in maize growing areas.

”If more small farmers in Africa’s drought-prone regions grow drought-tolerant varieties of maize and other staple crops, the farming communities will be better prepared for prolonged dry spells and inadequate rainfall,” said Mugo.

Crop diversification and more sustainable soil and water conservation practices are also recommended to improve soil fertility and structure and avoid soil compaction. When the rains finally come, the run-off will be less, and soils will have more capacity to retain moisture.

“Our research shows that conservation agriculture, combined with a package of good agronomic practices, offers several benefits that contribute to yield increases of up to 38 percent<>,” Mugo said.

To ensure the large-scale adoption of sustainable and climate resilient technologies and practices, farmers should have access to drought-tolerant seeds, as well as information and incentives to shift to climate-smart agricultural practices.

CIMMYT is engaged in many ways to help facilitate this agricultural transformation. The institute works with the African seed sector and national partners to develop and deploy stress resilient maize and wheat varieties through initiatives like Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa<> and the Wheat rust-resistant seed scaling in Ethiopia<>.

Because late planting may expose maize crops to stronger attacks of pests like the fall armyworm (FAW), the research-for-development efforts initiated by the FAW AR4D consortium against this invasive pest should be sustained.

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