Trans Nzoia farmers shifting from maize farming

Trans Nzoia County is generally known as the maize granary for the country, producing at least 5.million bags of the crop annually from over 107,000 acres of land.

However, of late, many farmers in the region have been shifting from maize farming to other ventures, including wheat, potatoes and dairy farming.

The County government is also encouraging farmers to shift to other food crops like bananas, sugarcane and wheat farming.

According to the Agriculture Executive, Mary Nzomo, diversification would help farmers guard against food insecurity at the family level in case the maize crop failed and also serve as a way of reducing high levels of acidity in the soils.

Other challenges facing maize production in the region is low and declining soil fertility caused by constant application of DAP fertilizer during planting. Farmers have also faced post-harvest challenges.

The county and national governments have tried to address some of these challenges in a bid to help farmers continue with maize farming and also get profits for their produce.

On soil acidity, Nzomo said that the County government was encouraging farmers to use the non-acidic Mavuno fertilizer.

Efforts put in place by the two levels of governments have also helped address pests and other diseases.

For instance, last year, when fall army worm invaded most farms in the region, pesticides were availed for free to contain the situation.

The national government used Sh.200m while the county government spent Sh.4.5 million to buy pesticides that helped to contain the disease.

Other measures taken into account included introducing over 25 plant clinics in different areas meant to carry out early diagnosis of pests.

With the help of the national government, the devolved unit has also tried to address the problem of high farm inputs by subsidizing fertilizer with a 50kg bag of planting fertilizer going at Sh.1500 down from Sh.3, 000 in retail shops.

On post-harvest challenges, the government has established maize dryers in different areas in the county to help farmers dry their cereal with ease. Indeed, at one point, the county government was drying maize for the farmers free of charge.

But with all these measures to promote maize farming in the region, farmers were still shifting mainly to cane farming, a trend that is worrying agriculture stake holders.

According to Kenya Seed Managing Director, Azariah Soi, cane farming is already affecting seed farming, with large scale farmers contracted by the seed company to plant seed slowly shifting to cane farming.

Soi said this was a worrying trend as the production of seed would go down. In an interview with KNA on Thursday, Soi said food security heavily relied on certified seeds.

And as farmers shift to cane farming, seed production will go down, meaning that farmers would not be able to access certified seed, thus affecting maize production.

He appealed to the government to find ways of keeping away cane farming in Trans Nzoia.

Recently, outgoing Agriculture Cabinet Secretary (CS), Willy Bett while on a field day function at the Kenya Seed Company, expressed concern over cane farming in the region.

Bett promised to establish a policy to bar farmers from venturing into cane farming, though so far, no policy has been announced on the same.

Meanwhile, the County government has written to the national government seeking to establish a crop policy that would help them curb cane farming in the region.

According to Nzomo, cane farming is threatening food security as the acreage under maize will drastically reduce.

If more farmers opt to do cane farming, it means Trans Nzoia will cease to be the maize basket to the nation, she said.

The crop policy will give the County government powers to stop and even uproot cane already grown in the county.

Alternatively, zoning could be done where some areas in the region would be banned from cane farming.

However, farmers already engaged in the business think that sugar cane farming could be an alternative to maize farming which they considered to be expensive.

According to Nyairo Momanyi, a cane farmer in Kiminini Sub County, this could be a better option to declining low yields caused by high farm inputs.

Nyairo, who has planted 80 acres of cane, says the existing government subsidies have not really helped maize farmers who must also fight middlemen in the marketing of their produce.

The farmer owns over 900 acres of land but says that he will increase farm under cane to 150 by May this year, adding that in one acre of cane, he was likely to get Sh.100,000 as opposed to maize farming where he was only raising Sh.50,000.

Source: Kenya News Agency