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March 06, 2009

Kenya distributes seeds for indigenous crops

Kenya has began distributing seeds for indigenous food crops worth Sh650 million to farmers, hoping to lift the country out of food insecurity.

East Africa's biggest economy is importing millions of bags of the maize staple to check a severe food crisis that has left about 10 million people in need of aid, prompting the government to declare a national emergency and appeal for help.

Food output and strategic grain reserves were hit by last year's bloody post-election crisis, a prolonged dry spell in many parts of the country and high input prices.

"The government invested in developing good quality seeds of traditional crops...so that we can enhance food security in the country," Agriculture Minister William Ruto, told reporters after he flagged off several trucks carrying the seeds from outside the ministry's headquarters in Nairobi.

"All of us are aware of the challenges we are facing in terms of food supply," he added.

The cassava, sweet potato, cowpea, sorghum, millet and bean seeds will take pressure off maize production, he said.

"While we make every effort to enhance production of maize and other crops that form the staple food of our country, we realise we have to expand that base," said Ruto.

The traditional crops seed distribution programme will target 25,000 farmers annually across the country, he said.

Production of indigenous food crops has declined over the years due to lack of planting materials, low interest by seed companies and changes in eating habits, although they are known to cope well in dry weather.

He said plans to facilitate the sale of sorghum by farmers to a local brewer for beer production could raise their incomes. Ruto said he was hopeful that the ministry would get a higher allocation in the 2009/10 financial year.

Agriculture accounts for 25 percent of Kenya's economy.

Daily Nation

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