Finger Millet Farming in Kenya
Finger millet farming in Kenya is an important agricultural activity in Western Kenya and Uganda. Finger millet can be stored for as long as ten years without use of insecticides. It has small seeds which dry out quickly and insects cannot fit inside them.
Finger millet is an indigenous cereals which is popular due to its nutritional benefits and resistance to pest infestation and drought.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Ecological Requirements
Rainfall: Finger millet can tolerate drought in the early stages of growth but after the first month it requires a good supply of moisture. It is commonly grown in areas receiving 900 mm of rainfall annually.
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Altitude: It grows well from sea level to 2400 m above sea level.
Soil: It requires fertile free draining soils.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Varieties
Indigenous varieties; These are low yielding, and less resistant to drought and diseases.
Improved varieties such as :-
P224: It is a brown seeded variety.It is a tall type with uniform plant height and is tolerant to lodging and blast. It takes 3-4 months to mature.
Katumani: It is a red seeded variety.It is a short variety and is drought tolerant. It takes 3 months to mature
U-15, Gulu and Okahale-1: These are new, superior finger millet varieties, which guarantee higher yields, tolerance to drought, striga weed and blast disease.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Selection and Preparation of Planting Materials
The harvested grains are sun dried, threshed, winnowed and then stored for use as seeds. Certified seeds can also be bought from certified Seed Companies.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Land Preparation
The seedbed should be thoroughly prepared to a fine tilth because the seeds are very tiny and are usually broadcasted. A fine thilth in the seedbed ensures that the small grains germinate.The other reason is that weed control in finger millet is very difficult and thorough seedbed preparation reduces weed competition for nutrients.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Field Operations
Finger millet should be planted as early as possible in the season on the onset of rains. The earlier it is sown the higher the yields. It is usually broadcasted by hand. If planted in rows, the furrows should be 30-33 cm apart and the plants should be thinned to 5 cm apart within the rows. It is commonly grown in pure stands.
(b) Weed Control
This is done manually because finger millet is very closely spaced and a jembe cannot be used. Thorough seedbed preparation and sowing in rows reduces the labour required for weeding. Eleusine Africana and Eleusine Indica are common weeds found in finger millet fields. They are difficult to distinguish from the crop in the early stages of growth. Also weed can be controlled by use of appropriate herbicides.
(c) fertiliser Application
The recommended rate is 125 kg/ha of sulphate of ammonia. It is applied when the crop is 15 cm high. This can give an increase in yield from 450-900 kg/ha. Organic manure improves the organic matter content of soil and soil structure. It is recommended at the rate of 100kg per acre.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Pest and Disease Control
( a ) Pests
The most Common pests are shoot fly, head bugs and birds. These pests can be controlled by the use of appropriate insecticides and using birds scare craws to scare away birds. Also early planting can control pests.Finger millet is rarely destroyed by pests in store because of their small size. The major pests are usually in the field.
Common diseases in finger millet are Ergot-honey like discharges from the floret which lead to no grain formation and Grain smut-where the affected grains show black sacs.
The most serious disease of finger millet is the head blast which is caused by fungus Piricularia 0ryzae_ It is common under hot and humid conditions like those found in western Kenya. It causes brown spots with grey centers, on the leaves, the stems are affected below the in florescence.
Control for these diseases is by planting resistant varieties of finger millet and use clean dressed seeds.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
Once the finger millet mature, hand knives are used for cutting individual heads. The heads are then dried, threshed and winnowed. The new improved varieties can yield 1100kg to 2900kg per hectare.
Finger Millet Farming in Kenya – Storage and Marketing
Finger millet should be stored in bags and put in a dry place.The grains are dried and stored in bags. Finger millet is mainly grown for subsistence and only a little is sold in the local markets.