Seed shortage looming due to shrinking land

Posted on October, 25, 2019 at 09:58 am

By AGATHA NGOTHO Science Writer - The Star

It may soon be impossible to get enough land for seed growers, if the current land subdivision trends for real estates is anything to go by.

In an interview with the Star, Kenya Seed Company managing director Azarius Soi explained how the future of seed production in Kenya is threatened by the subdivision of land, and how this could be solved by land consolidation, among other interventions.

Soi said Kenya Seed has been experiencing land shortage as a result of land subdivision especially in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties.

“This subdivision is becoming a challenge because we cannot produce more like we used to do, taking advantage of the economies of scale. So small land parcels now mean that they have to only grow commercial maize because farmers have different production targets. Some want to do maize, others want to do pasture,” he said.

To overcome this shrinkage of land, Kenya Seed is first encouraging farmers who still have large-scale farms to maintain the land they have so that it is economical to grow seeds in those areas.

“We have also taken the approach of consolidating land by encouraging small units to come together and form seed villages. So if 10 farmers each owning 10 acres can agree to grow seeds, then there will no need for isolation,” he said.

"We will only need to put them together and give them one variety like 6213, for instance, then the whole village will grow 6213. Each could be 20 acres, 50 or 70 acres, and together they form seed villages."

He said there are farmers, especially in Trans Nzoia, who still have big chunks of land, between 20 to 50 acres.

“So if we have 10 farmers each with 20 acres, that's 200 acres. And if you have a few others with 50 or 70 acres and put them together, you can easily get 1,000 acres,” he said.

The country needs between 25,000 to 30,000 acres of land to produce seeds annually.

“When we come below that, we experience challenges and may not produce enough to meet the country's demand of 30-35 million kilos of seeds every year,” Soi said.

This year, Kenya Seed has produced on 26,000 acres, from which they expect a harvest of 28 million kilos. The deficit will be met by the carryover stock from last year's seed harvest.

“We always have a carryover stock to take care of emergences in the event of drought like this year's. There are also farmers who want to plant as early as February and March, so we must have seeds ready,” he said.


He said for seed multiplication, the company identifies farmers who are well organised, disciplined and with integrity so there is no mixture of seeds with commercial maize. The same applies to wheat, pasture and other seed production.

“They have to produce seed that is of good quality, has not been mixed with other seeds or crops, and a farmer must observe all the rules that apply to seed production,” he said.

Soi said the company signs contracts with farmers to produce seeds, and they inspect them throughout the growing season. To contract any farmer, the company first identifies isolation to ensure that the farmer has enough isolation around his farm.

He said seed production is a critical process because it requires suitable and ample land. This is because seeds like maize require isolation of 200 metres all around from commercial maize so that there is no contamination.

The farmers are also assisted in managing the crops and given advisories due to the stringent measures required in seed multiplication.

At the end of it, he said, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services issues a certificate for the growers who have met all the requirement that the seed they have produced is of good quality.

A certificate is issued for every seed lot obtained from the farmers. Soi said the contract is a legal document that is actionable in court, so any farmer who breaches the contract can be charged.

“We do not want the seeds to end up in the wrong hands,” he said.

To do maize seed production, Soi said, a farmer needs to have a minimum of 50 acres and the maximum can go up to 1,000 acres to 2,000 acres for those who still have the land.

But today, due to the issue of subdivision, one needs a maximum of 20 acres.

“Our main focus now is to encourage high yield per unit area. We target at least 1,500-2,500 kilos of clean seed per acre. We encourage farmers to increase their productivity per unit area to cover for the shortage of land,” he said.


Soi said there is a lot of work that goes into seed production, unlike in commercial maize farming, so farmers are motived by getting higher prices for the seed crops.

“There is also the area of isolation. So we motivate them by giving them a good price that enables them to break even and make a profit,” he said.

"We look at the commercial prices of maize and we do the gross margin analyses on how much it costs a farmer to produce a kilo of seed. Every year the price may be different, depending on the cost of inputs and labour. So we revise on an annual basis to see whether it is still profitable to carry on with the same prices."

In addition, they give technical advice to farmers, negotiate with banks and sign deals to help farmers access credit, and guarantee the banks that Kenya Seed Company will pay the farmer at the end of the season.

He said they also talk to the government to give seed growers subsidised fertiliser and facilitate that process by collecting and storing the commodity.

The cost of seed maize production per acre varies from one region to another, ranging from Sh45,000 to Sh60,000.

Kenya Seed is producing over 10 maize varieties, and this means each variety must have its own isolation. This explains the need for a vast area where it can produce seed that is of good quality, has good genetic and physical quality, so that farmers can get value for their money.

“Seed is the most important input in agriculture and especially when we talk of crop production. We need to identify good seeds and varieties suitable for various agro-ecological zones,” Soi said.

In seed production, the crossing happens in the farm and you only harvest a certain portion, which is the seed crops itself, the rest is disposed of.

He explained that in the event that the seeds do not meet the requirement, that crop will be rejected and we will get it from the farmer and agree to pay them at the commercial price.

“This enables us to mop it out from the farms because it can easily trickle out into the market as fake seeds. So we have included this clause in the contract,” Soi said.

"Once we have bought the crops, we dispose of it or sometimes use it for animal feeds for our animals at the Elgon Downs Farm in Kitale, or sell it to other farmers for animal feeds."

Soi encouraged farmers to use improved seeds, which will guarantee good yields that are free from pests and diseases.

“Farming needs to be taken as a business and there will be a guarantee of good returns,” he said.


Source: The Star