Farmers in Kirinyaga have now turned to grow millet, which they claim has the potential to replace maize.
Edwin Murithi from Ngaru location Kirinyaga Central Sub County is one such farmer who says he turned to millet farming out of frustration with his attempts to grow maize in his one-acre farm.
“I have tried planting maize in this land but the outcome has been disheartening. This is why I made a decision to go for millet, and the result as you can see is good,” he said.
“Millet has shown signs of resistance to the maize diseases and we are grounding it into flour for Ugali,” he said.
He said the crop is nutritious and hardy and offers farmers food security as well as income if sold as a cash crop. Further, the millet can survive with little rainfall, and leftover stalks from the first harvest can yield a second growth.
“We have formed a group targeting the resource-constrained smallholder farmers to venture fully in the growing of millet and organizing how our products will get to the market,” he said.
Murithi said they are currently selling their millet in the local markets as they look forward to a buyer who can buy their products in bulk.
The project is already a boost in nutritional and income security for farmers who previously depended on subsistence farming making a very return.
He said already, they have liaised with officials from the County Department of Agriculture for upscaling and deployment of production technologies and the development of value-added products of millet for household and commercial uses.
The idea is to seek to improve the productivity of millet and increasing their capacity to adapt to environmental variability in smallholder farming systems.
Murithi said indirect target groups will include rural grain traders, cottage/village grain millers and other small and medium enterprises involved in millet and legumes value chains.
“We also intend to involve local schools and faith-based organizations in promoting utilization and nutrition through school feeding programs as well as other community-based feeding programs.”
He said despite the high nutritive value of millet, utilization, and demand for these grains is constrained by limited nontraditional end-users – including a narrow range of food and value-added products for household consumption and mass markets.
Processing giants like Unga Kenya Limited are processing at 50 percent below capacity due to the lack of raw material, and are also importing millet from Tanzania to compensate for the shortfall.
He said the indigenous varieties that most farmers are using yield between 500kg and 700kg per hectare, although with fertilizer optimum yields can reach 1,600kg. From planting, the variety takes up to three months to mature.
The millet delivers one annual harvest, with the planting season starting from the onset of the long rains in late February and harvesting in June to July.
“Millet is my bank. When I have millet in the house, I don’t worry about money. I can cash it in anytime I want,” says Harriet Wanjiku, another farmer.
Wanjiku, a smallholder farmer in Koroma village in Kirinyaga, started farming millet two years ago. She was encouraged by her parents to go for millet farming instead of maize.
One of the most important things she learned from her parents was timing. Planting millet early, before the onset of the rains in mid to late February, increased her chances of a better harvest.
“Millet is not like maize or other crops. I’ve realized millet germination is not all that dependent on rain. I expect to harvest every time I plant millet, even in the seasons when my village receives little rainfall,” Wanjiku explains.
The County Director of Agriculture Kirinyaga Benson Mukungo also hopes the millet farming will offer a better alternative to maize.