Kenya is among three East African Countries that are spearheading plant genetic resources conservation projects using small scale farmers, targeting orphaned crops such as sorghum , cassava, finger millet and legumes.
The projects are being run in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), European Union and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at a cost of Ksh 80 million shillings.
FAO crops expert Dr. Wilson Rono says that farmers need to be advised to adopt these orphaned crops due to their resilience to drought in order to avert food crisis.
If handled well, Dr. Rono adds, the orphaned crops can produce high yields and an advantage is that most of the arid and the semi-arid areas are suitable for growing of these traditional crops.
Dr. Rono who was speaking at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) during a media briefing with representatives of European Union on execution of international treaty on plant genetic resource added that effects of climate change , rise in temperature and emergence of new pest and disease is expected to cost the country one million hectares by 2040.
The area under maize production in the country is set to decrease by 40 percent in the next two decades owing to the vagaries of climate change, he warned.
He explained that the maize production area is likely to reduce by 800,000 hectares from the current 2.1 million hectares to 1.2 million hectares.
Dr. Rono said that sorghum and millet covers a wider area than maize and thus the need to develop varieties that are suitable for both the market and domestic consumption and also to produce livestock feed.
Rise in temperature in currently maize growing areas will make it unsuitable for the staple crop to grow and also due to human activities such as destruction of forest and invasion of wet lands that has led to global warming.
Hot temperatures sterilize the pollen and thus interfere with the formation and development of the maize crop resulting to a failed crop, Dr Rono said.
Equally, he noted that the current regions will suffer from emergence and spread of new pests and diseases where we are likely to experience deadly diseases more than the maize lethal necrosis.
Value chain players therefore need to encourage and promote traditional crops growing both in high and low land areas with the focus being that of increasing productivity per plant, he noted.
Dr. Rono stated that urbanization and population decrease has contributed to high consumption of foreign foods and thus disregards food such as pumpkins and spider plant
There has been an erosion in genetic resources not only in Kenya but in sub Saharan Africa due to effects of global warming and local scientists in partnership with international counterparts are developing a gene bank for indigenous crops to come up with high yielding varieties .
According to Dr, Desterio Nyamongo Director of the Genetic Resources Research institute in KALRO, Muguga, Kenya’s genetic resource center that was established in 2013 currently holds close to 50,000 samples belonging to over 2,000 different plant species.
He however said already several food and fruit plant species either no longer exist or are under threat of extinction in the country as a result of climate change and also because most areas have been getting drier so the materials adapted to the higher rainfall region have been lost thus the need for the country to conserve and restore its plant genetic diversity in order to protect the country’s food.
We collect this diversity from farmers as well as wild landscapes and stores the resources in the Gene bank for current and future utilization in research, thus securing this valuable heritage and protects it from genetic erosion occasioned by natural catastrophes of land anthropogenic activities, Dr. Nyamongo said .
Source: Kenya News Agency