Business Daily (Kenya)
By Josephine Njoki
August 26, 2009

Adoption of wheat varieties that can survive in different ecological zones including dry weather conditions are likely to increase production of the crop and reduce the impact of adverse weather changes.

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) chief plant breeder, Mr Peter Njau, said most farmers planted varieties which were developed for high rainfall areas, which are therefore highly susceptible to drought.

Poor harvest
Because of the consequent poor harvest many farmers have been discouraged to the extent that the acreage under wheat has declined and currently stands at just 150,000 ha spread across Narok, Uasin Gishu, Mau Narok, Nakuru, Timau, Laikipia and Naivasha.

The decreasing production is in stark contrast with the increasing consumption rate of the grain in the country triggered by the changing dietary habits which are shifting to wheat-based products.

Researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, however, say that Kenya has a capacity to produce 4.5 tonnes per hectare up from the current 2.5 tonnes. For the last two years the global levels of wheat production have gone down triggering price rises.

According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the global prices of wheat last year were 83 per cent higher compared to the previous year.

Mr Samuel Gitonga of the Kenya Federation of Agricultural Produce said that the cost of farming an acre of wheat had risen to Sh31,000 from the previous Sh15,000.

“Not many farmers still have the will to go on since most of last year’s produce was destroyed by the late rains which fell around harvest time leaving them with huge losses. This year, there are no prospects for a good harvest either,” Mr Gitonga said.

KARI has over the last 15 years developed wheat varieties that are specific to different ecological zones with particular interest on drought tolerance.

The first mutant wheat variety named Njoro BW1 was released in 2001. Bred to be tolerant to drought and endure limited rainfall the high yielding variety has a moderate resistance to wheat rust.

A major blow to wheat farmers came in 2001 in the form of a new strain of stem rust which came to be identified as UG 99.

Within two years most of the wheat varieties in the country had become susceptible.

K.A.R.I in collaboration with other stakeholders has developed a variety resistant to the dreaded UG 99 stem rust.

The results for the first stem rust resistant variety are expected by November. Seed multiplication for the new lines is underway and seeds are expected to be issued to pilot farmers by March next year.