About a year ago, the Kenya Market Assistance Programme (MAP) embarked on a project to develop a seed sector platform that would be pivotal in supplying important information to key players within the sector. This came after a realization that although seed is one of the most significant agricultural inputs, in Kenya many people do not have information on certified and commercialized seeds and how to access them.
Many seed varieties, especially for maize, have been developed and certified in Kenya (the seed sector platform has over 450 different varieties). These varieties are usually customized for specific conditions and altitudes. Despite this, often farmers still cannot lay their hands on these seeds. They, therefore, resort to planting seeds recycled from prior harvests. Others invest their income on purchasing certified seed but since both they and the agrodealer whom they buy from are not aware of the most appropriate variety, they still do not get adequate yield.
The seed sector platform was created to answer these concerns. Information in the platform answers questions such as: What is the best variety to plant in my altitude? Where can this seed be found? Which company has developed this seed? Is it commercialized? This kind of information is very important to various stakeholders and ultimately to the main target who is the smallholder farmer. The farmer has the arduous task of deciding what seed to grow knowing well that this decision has far-reaching impact on the yield he/she gets.
This significant platform was launched in September 9th 2014.
Strong Results For ASAL Farmer Who Seeks, And Gets, Information About The Right Seed Variety For His Farm
Mutitu, where Masila and Mususya have their 4 ½ acre farm, is a small town centre about 80 km from Kitui town and over 200 km from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. Kitui County is one of the semi-arid low altitude areas in Kenya, receiving only 500mm to 1050mm of rainfall per annum, and even this amount is very erratic and unreliable.
Masila, whose farm is about 3 km from Mutitu town centre, is a driver working in Nairobi. He comes from a strong farming background though, and his wife manages most of the farm activities while he is working in Nairobi. Until last year, farming was an unsuccessful venture for them, although it did contribute to their family’s food supply. However, this year the situation has greatly changed making the couple the most sought-after farmers in their neighbourhood. This is mainly because, for the first time in many years, Masila and Mususya were able to get a worthwhile harvest from their farm despite poor rains.
This year, things have not been very good for most of the farmers in the area. It is already harvest season and the rains have been highly unreliable. Josephat Mutinda Nzuku, a farmer and Masila’s neighbour says that he can only vaguely remember the number of times it rained heavily since the beginning of the year. “Maybe twice,” he said scratching his head. The rest of the season was characterized with very little rain. This unreliability of rain has caused most farmers to plant crops and adopt a wait and see attitude leaving the success and/or failure of their hard work to fate.
However, as a father of three children, Masila did not want to take this chance. After trying many times to grow maize without success he decided to be more strategic and make some changes. Due to his ties with one of the staff at Agri Experience, which is implementing the MAP’s seed sector activities, he had become increasingly aware of the importance of growing seed of the right crop variety for his farm, and ensuring that the seed is genuine and of high quality. MAP is a programme that seeks to strengthen the performance of key agricultural and basic service markets in Kenya so that they can function better and improve the lives of those participating in them. The programme has been engaged in various activities in the seed sector for over one year now.
Masila approached seed experts from Agri Experience who referred him to a crop seed information platform that they had been developing with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorare Service (KEPHIS) and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Although the platform was still in the development stage, it had enough information to help Masila make an informed choice on the kind of seed that he should grow in Mutitu.
The seed sector platform houses a highly interactive database with information on various seed varieties and at what altitudes they do well. In addition, there are also databases on the agrodealers who sell the seeds and on industry participants, including the seed companies that produce and sell the seeds.
The main objective of the platform is to provide information to various users so that they can make informed decisions about crop seed – finding it, using it, selecting it, and investing in it. Agrodealers for example, can see the types of seed that do well in their area and choose to stock those varieties in their shops. Agriculture Ministries within the Counties can also take a lead role in promoting effective seed varieties to farmers within their counties. Crop seed companies can identify gaps in their product portfolios and get the information they need to decide whether or not to invest to fill those gaps.
With the help of the seed platform Masila realized that, like most of his neigbours, he had been growing seed that would lock him into a cycle of low yields. Most of the farmers in his neighbourhood grow Kikamba seed, saved from the prior harvest. For most of the farmers in the area, Kikamba seed is what they know. It has been passed on from generation to generation and therefore they feel obligated to use it and find it difficult to try out new seed. However, Kikamba seed is low yielding compared to more modern hybrid varieties.
Prior to interacting with the seed platform, Masila and Mususya were also trying different varieties of certified hybrid seed but still this did not work. By querying the platform, Masila was able to determine the best maize seed for Mususya to plant on their farm, KDV4. He then used the platform to look for a seed company that produced the variety, and then for agrodealers in nearby Kitui. He selected several agrodealers that had listed their phones in the database and then called them to see who had his desired variety in stock. The step he took to purchase the seed and plant it with Mususya was one of the best things he has ever done in his life, he says.
They planted the seed on a portion of their farm, where they had cleared land, and were able to harvest 25 bags of maize, each weighing 90 kg. Initially they were planting maize on a slightly smaller piece of land, but only harvesting 11 bags. This increase in yield has been far-reaching in terms of its impact. Their life has greatly improved because unlike in previous harvests Mususya has more than enough to feed herself and their three children, and also to sell. Maize has now become a source of income for her whereas in the past she grew it just for food. Masila and Mususya are now sought after by their fellow farmers as the yardstick for good yield. Many farmers come to learn from them and better understand what caused their yield increase.
Farmers such as Caroline Mumbanu have been completely transformed after Masila’s success. “I only use certified seed now,” she says. Luckily for her, her husband works in Nairobi and can bring her the correct seed variety for every planting season. Many farmers would like to have improved yield like Masila but are still unsure of what seed variety to grow and who supplies the seed nearby since Kitui is quite far and is costly to access. Others are still stuck in their old ways believing that the Kikamba seed is the best seed to grow. Josephat is one of them. “I prefer the old seed because I think it is drought resistant,” he says, oblivious to the fact that certified drought tolerant and drought escaping (early maturing) hybrids are available and produce better yield.
As demonstrated by Masila and Mususya, the seed sector platform will be very helpful in responding to the challenges faced by farmers in understanding which seed variety they should grow and where they can find the seed. For farmers like Josephat, increased awareness creation done at county level will go a long way in changing their mindsets.
With the help of county ministries, agrodealers, and others, the seed sector platform will prove to be a major step towards ensuring that farmers in Kenya access high quality seed of improved varieties that are suited to their specific locations. Once the platform is launched in September, it is expected that both the national and county governments as well as the private sector will work with other partners and begin to use this information to benefit Kenya’s hard-working farmers.
Agrodealer Makes Noteworthy Business Decisions After Accessing Information from the Seed Sector Platform
Ciira Agrovet is a popular agrodealer with three branches in Nairobi, Kiambu County and in and Machakos counties. It is currently a thriving business even distributing to smaller agrodealers as far as Nakuru town about 160 km from its headquarters in Nairobi. In its current setting within the city centre, it stands out from the shops surrounding it with its professional branding standards and set up. Clients are served by welcoming attendants who always bear a smile and its clientele has grown exponentially for the past one year. In addition, unlike many shops, the proprieter Alice Muthoni, has invested in technology to help in effective management of its stocks and clients.
Many of these changes that Ciira agrovet has been experienced came about since Alice began working with MAP’s seed sector programme headed by Agri Experience and overseen by Kenya Markets Trust. As one of the five pilot agrodealers under this initiative, the agrodealer has been working with MAP to adopt some business strategies that are both beneficial to its clients as well as its own business growth.
About one month ago Agri Experience introduced the yet-to-be-launched seed platform to Ciira Agrovet. Alice was provided with the link to the platform so that she could begin to familiarize herself with it as a way of pilot testing the platform.
The enthusiastic proprieter went a step further. She had always wanted to expand her business either by adding another branch or recruiting more stockists that she can supply agricultural inputs to. She saw this as an opportunity to seek more information to help her make this decision. The platform provided all the information she needed at the click of a button.
Excitedly, she searched for all the agrodealers located in Limuru, Kiambu County. She saw an opportunity there to not only get some new stockists but also to set up a branch that would supply the identified stockists.
Armed with this information she took a trip to Limuru on a fact-finding mission and proceeded to visit all the identified agrodealers to confirm her hypothesis. She realized that indeed there was a gap that Ciira Agrovet could fill.
Alice and her team are currently developing strategies as they consider beginning to work in Limuru.
The seed platform will be launched on 9th September yet already it is causing ripples within the agribusiness sector. Farmers and agrodealers are using it to make decisions that could not only impact their yield but also their income.