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Food Crops Research Programme
Agriculture remains the backbone of Kenya's economy. Food crop research is a driving force behind agriculture as it provides the requisite technologies in the form of genetically improved food crop varieties and associated agronomic practices required to reap maximum genetic potential of those varieties. Over the years, research has gone a long way towards increasing crop yield vertically (increase in crop productivity) and horizontally (increase in land area by expanding production into semi-arid lands). To better address the problem of food insecurity effectively, KARI must tune its food crops research programmes to increase on-farm productivity, total crop production and profitability. Developing crop varieties with high genetic potential, resistant to the major diseases and pests, adapted and productive in cold and dry highlands, tolerant to drought and low soil fertility, and having added value is a priority. It is reckoned that if these objectives are met and the socio-economic and policy environments are conducive to crop farming economic enterprises that this will translate into higher adoption rates of new crop varieties that Kenya's aspiration for food security could be met. As it is, only some 20% of Kenya's land mass may be classified as arable land due to aridity in the rest.
Current Focus and Achievements
Food crops research aims at developing, validating and releasing technologies (improved crop varieties management practices) to farmers. Adoption of these technologies by at least 50% of the target farmers will significantly increase food security and thereby contribute to the national goal of improved livelihood of Kenyans. The strategy to adopt in this regard is to breed higher yielding and stable varieties of crops with desirable agronomic traits, including value adding at pre- and post-harvest and alternative uses which integrate crop and livestock farming thus reducing cost of production. The genetic potential of the improved varieties can only be realised if appropriate crop production and protection technologies are applied simultaneously. For practically all crops, appropriate post-harvest technologies (storage, processing, and utilisation packages) are required in order to increase the shelf life of products and to add value. In order to scale up these technologies, deliberate efforts are being made to link up with other stakeholders, such as seed traders, extension agents and farmers to disseminate the technologies to the end-users (millers and consumers).
Recent achievements in KARI's crop research programmes include the release of a number of improved varieties as shown in Table 2. The varieties released in 2000 are already in production. Crop management recommendation manuals were also produced by KARI in 1999 for the extension agents and farmers to use in unlocking the genetic potential of improved crop varieties. The varieties released in 2001 are under on-farm testing prior to being availed to seed companies/CBOs and farmers for commercialisation and production.
Research Priorities and Emerging Concerns for MTP III
Priority enterprises in food crops are:
(ii) sorghum and millets;
(vi) wheat, barley, oats; and
The rapid decline of pulses production (since 1993) and also of maize, sorghum and millets, more recently, is of serious concern. Total annual on-farm production of food crops has lagged behind consumption, resulting in food deficits, and thereby preventing the achievement of Kenya's aspiration of food security. This poor performance is due to, not only biophysical constraints (diseases, pests and drought), but also to socio-economic/policy bottlenecks (input to output economic ratios, inadequate infrastructure, marketing, price levels and stability).
Profitability, Competitiveness and Sustainability Concerns
It is indeed crucially important to mobilise the research programmes in making the PAEs competitive. For example, although maize is the top PAE in Kenya's 59 out of 71 districts involving nearly 3 million farm households, the country still imports maize at a landed cost of KES 11.00/kg. This is due to the fact that maize production in Kenya (with yields ranging from 0.5 to 5.0 t/ha, and 26 out of the 59 districts having an annual maize yield of less than 1.5 t/ha) has been decreasing at an alarming rate over the past five years. In early 2002, maize was being sold by farmers at KES 5.00/kg and it took four bags of grain to pay for one bag of nitrogen fertiliser. If Kenya's maize farmers are to make a profit and effectively compete in their own domestic market, KARI has to make the maize PAE more efficient on a system basis (e.g. from pre-production all the way to marketing concerns). It is therefore important for the Kenyan maize PAE R&D network to be mobilised to develop and synthesize technology that "targets cost of production" at below the landed cost of imported maize. This should probably not be more than KES 8.0/kg in order to be competitive. To do this, KARI will strive to replace the inefficient components of the maize PAE with more cost effective options such as much higher yielding varieties, better crop husbandry practices, improved land productivity, more efficient use of inputs, lower cost of transport/warehousing, etc. This would also probably include a greater KARI focus on sustainable soil fertility management including the use of locally available materials and of organic fertilisers. Similarly, each PAE R&D network for food crops will respond to the immediate challenge of making their respective PAE more competitive, at least in the domestic market and, over longer term, in export markets as well.
A determined effort will be made to ensure that the PAEs become more profitable and competitive both in national and international markets. The following priority thrusts are identified for food crops research:
(i) strategic studies at national level and district level;
(ii) varietal improvement with emphasis on resistance/tolerance breeding;
(iii) technology synthesis of system based and PAE specific recommendations on priority on-farm concerns in pre-production, production proper, and harvesting, as well as important offfarm concerns in processing/value-addition, storage and utilisation, and marketing of products;
(iv) a functional national gene bank as a backup gene pool to the breeding programmes; and,
(v) operationalisation of technology enterprise development initiatives through linkages with development partners (seed companies, NGOs, CBOs, private sector entrepreneurs, universities, IARCs, etc. Given the updated priority rankings, the importance of development of economically viable crop production practices during MTP III, and the expected outcomes of the proposed strategic studies, there will be a likely shift of research programme emphasis towards soil and crop management practices to conserve the natural resource base, to integrate crop production (for animal feeds) with livestock industry, and to add value.
This will have implications with regard to the allocation and composition of the available human resource capacity and also with regard to further human resource development. Food crop research programmes will have to collaborate more closely with the private sector, both in research and in the dissemination of new technologies including improved seeds. Increasingly, the private sector will be expected to bear part of the costs of research, especially as it relates to the commercial sector through contract research with, and payment of royalties to KARI. National, regional and international networking will continue to operate much in the same way as before, but strengthened to better realise synergy effects. n food crop production, there are different categories of farmers requiring different kinds of services from research. There are large numbers of poor farmers who try to eke out a living from a small area of land, sometimes in high risk ASAL areas, many working part time for other farmers or elsewhere. There are also farmers who have other full time occupations and "farm" a small area to grow food crops, mostly for their own families. These two categories of farmers grow their food crops largely for subsistence and they are not much affected by market prices for inputs of which many use little and for products because they only sell at times of surplus. However, there are also many farmers who grow food crops primarily for the market, often on larger areas and use purchased inputs; sustainability for them depends on making a profit. Although the boundaries between these categories of farmers are not always distinct, it is important for KARI to design specific strategies to serve the different groups more effectively. Within the MTP time frame, KARI intends to adopt the following broad strategy to serve the "subsistence" food crops farmer:
- Perform on-farm testing and release to farmers those crop varieties (open pollinated and varietal cross hybrids), which are "in the pipeline", while aggressively disseminating (with KSU and the private sector), a wide range of seeds and other available suitable planting materials.
- Strengthen resistance/tolerance to pests and diseases of currently available varieties both through breeding and development of improved crop management practices.
- Facilitate the development of low-cost crop and soil and water management practices, including reduction of post-harvest losses in collaboration with other stakeholders.
- Through biotechnology, introgress/insert genes for nutritional factors and tolerance to drought and low soil fertility into crop varieties including land races, which have already been accepted by many farmers in the ASALs. For the second category of farmers, especially those in the high potential "bread basket" of Kenya (Rift Valley and western Kenya), the strategy will be:
- In consultation with the KARI socio-economics research programme and other stakeholders, develop a better understanding of the essential components and characteristics of economically viable and sustainable cropping systems in the high potential areas.
- Conduct national performance trials, on-farm testing and release of higher yielding crop varieties, which are already in the pipeline (e.g. for maize yielding 30 to 60% above current commercial hybrids), in order to make better use of purchased inputs and to significantly increase productivity.
- Develop crosses between adapted commercial inbred lines and specialty gene pools with known resistance to major biotic stresses, followed by on-centre and on-farm trials.
- Validate and disseminate ITK and conventional crop protection technologies.
- Facilitate the development and adoption by farmers of agronomic practices such as conservation and reduced tillage farming that can greatly increase mineral fertiliser use efficiency, in collaboration with other KARI programmes.
KARI's main goal in food crops research is to contribute to the achievement of food security, reduction of poverty and increased incomes for rural people.
The purpose of the food crop research comprises:
(i) development of improved varieties with resistance/tolerance to pests, diseases, moisture and fertility stress;
(ii) development and dissemination of superior crop management technical packages; and
(iii) rationalisation of processing and marketing to increase economic returns.
- High yielding, environmentally stable varieties of food crops, fortified with genes for nutritional factors and resistance/tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses.
- Agricultural production technologies for higher and more profitable on-farm crop productivity.
- Appropriate technologies for sustained production, processing and marketing of produce and products of food crops research.
- Information on system based and priority enterprise specific recommendation s for all levels of production and post-harvest (processing, value addition, storage and utilization) as well as marketing of the priority products.
- Functional national gene banks with viable germplasm collections also at center level to sustain the development of improved varieties in the future.
- Functional linkages with development partners for technology enterprise initiatives.