Maize is the staple food in Kenya. Large as well as small-scale farmers produce the crop and a large percentage of the population depends on maize as an income-generating crop.
Maize Growing in Kenya
Maize is a tall annual crop of the grass family. It grows to a height of between 1.5 m and 3 m. From the stalk grows the conical cob on which the grains are found. The cobs are harvested either by hand or by mechanised harvesters such as in the USA’s extensive farms. The grains from the cobs are consumed or milled for maize flour.
Maize was ﬁrst cultivated in America by the Indians. It was taken to Europe by Christopher Columbus. It has since spread to many parts of Africa and Asia. In Kenya it was ﬁrst introduced by the Portugese at the coast in the 15th Century.
Main Growing Areas in Kenya
Since maize is adaptable to a whole range of climate conditions, it is the single most extensively grown crop. However, the chief growing areas are Trans Nzoia, Nakuru, Bungoma, and Uasin Gishu Districts.
In South Nyanza, other parts of the Rift Valley and Western Province, maize is grown alongside other subsistence crops like beans, potatoes and bananas. Good yields are obtained with use of hybrid seeds supplied by Kenya Seed Company. The Kenya Agricultural Research Station has developed a special kind of hybrid maize called Katumani, which is adapted to the drier conditions and is grown in Machakos, Kitui, Tana River and Isiolo Districts.
Conditions Favouring Maize Growth in Kenya
Warm temperatures above 15°C. These are experienced in most parts of the country.
High rainfall of 1,200 mm -2,500 mm. However, maize ﬂourishes under different rainfall regions and at times tolerates rainfall totals between 635 mm to 1,145 mm or even adapt to semi-arid regions with rainfall totals of below 380 mm.
Rich, well drained light loam soil. However, it also tolerates a wide range of soils found in most parts of the country.
Undulatin g landscape. This allows for use of machines. A good example is the topography of Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu Districts which has facilitated large scale maize production.
Maize Cultivation in Kenya
- The land is cleared depending on its original nature. Ploughing is done. This is inﬂuenced by the size of land and tertiary tillages may always be necessary. The crop requires a medium tilth.
- Seeds are sown at the onset of rains. This is done manually by dibbling or mechanically by maize planters.
- Two seeds are sown in each hole at a depth of 2.5-5 cm in most soils and 10 cm in dry soils.
- Fertiliser is applied during planting.
- Graping and thinning is done to remove weak seedlings. Nitrogenous fertilisers are added when the crop is 30-45 cm high immediately after weeding.
- The crop is ready for harvesting in 4-12 months depending on the seed variety and the altitude of the place.
Maize Harvesting in Kenya
Maize is harvested in the dry season to avoid incidents of grain rotting in the field. On small farms the maize is left to dry while on the stalks. The cobs are then removed from their husks by hand and taken to the stores.
Maize is periodically dried in the sun until the grains are completely dry. On large farms, the plants are cut and piled in several places in the ﬁeld in straight heaps. This enables the grains to dry for some period. The cobs are then removed and shelling done usually by machines. The grain is winnowed and packed in sacks.
Maize Processing in Kenya
Bagged maize is transported to the millers. It is weighed and put on trays. It is then sieved to remove any undesired matter, e.g. tiny rock particles and broken cobs. It is then passed through a milling machine which crushes it into ﬂour of various grades.
Maize Marketing in Kenya
Maize in Kenya is mainly sold to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). The farmers also sell directly to the millers who are located in major towns of Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru and Kitale.
Uses of Maize in Kenya
- Maize is a staple food in Kenya. The grains are ground to produce maize ﬂour and it is also consumed as a food grain. It may be consumed fresh, ground, boiled or mixed with other foods.
- The stalks, leaves, and other remains from the maize cobs are used to feed domestic animals especially dairy cattle.
- The stalks and cobs are used to provide domestic fuel particularly in the rural areas. They are also used as organic manure.
- The grains are used in manufacture of com oil and animal feeds hence it is a vital raw material for industrialisation.
Problems Facing Maize Farmers in Kenya
- High cost of production - Expensive farm inputs e. g. fertilisers which reduce the farmer’s proﬁts.
- Unstable prices - Fluctuating prices makes it hard for the famer to plan or at times to even recover their inputs.
- Climatic hazards – Prolonged drought or unfavourable weather conditions lead to destruction of the crop leading to low yields and income for the farmer.
- Competition – Flooding of the local markets by cheap imports from COMESA countries and heavily subsidised farmers from the European Union or even from genetically modified grains.
- Pests and diseases - These attack the crop or even the harvested grains leading to destruction hence loss to the farmers.
- Monoculture - Prolonged planting of maize has led to soil exhaustion.
- Poor marketing strategies – These has resulted in farmers selling their crop at throw away prices.
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