Maize Farming in Kenya – 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 farming as an income-generating crop.
Maize Farming 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 Centu
Maize Farming in Kenya – Farming Areas
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 counties.
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 counties.
Maize Farming in Kenya – Conditions Favouring Maize Farming
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.
Undulating 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 Farming in Kenya – Maize Farming Practices
Plough early during the sunny season, give two or three ploughing if necessary to get good clean seedbed, and remove couch – grass with.
It is essential to plant early, at the onset of the rains. Yields are greatly reduced by late planting.
It is important to choose the correct hybrid for your altitude and rainfall conditions.
Population and Spacing
High yields can only be obtained if the correct number of plants per acre are grown. For hybrids grown in soil of low fertility, a plant population of 37,000 per hectare with a spacing of 90cm by 30-50cm is recommended. For hybrids grown in soils of high fertility, a plant population of 53 000 per hectare with a spacing of 75cm by 25-50cm is recommended.
Plant either 2 seeds per hole or 1 and 2 seeds alternately per hole, and then single to 1 plant per hole when the maize is 6-9 inches tall, leave 2 plants at one side of a gap. The seed should not be planted directly in contact with fertilizers, as this can cause poor germination due to seed scorching. When hand-planting, put fertilizer in the hole, stir with a stick to mix the fertilizer with the soil, then put the seed. Cover the seed with loose soil, then press down the soil.
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Two seeds are sown in each hole at a depth of 2.5-5 cm in most soils and 10 cm in dry soils.
The amount of fertilizer to be used is determined by the fertility level of the soil. This can be determined by soil testing.
Keep the maize clean weeded until it flowers, by weeding several times.
Maize Farming in Kenya – Pests and Diseases
The most common maize diseases include:-
Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND)
The disease occurs at all stages of crop. The main symptoms includes appearance of chlorotic mottling on leaves which starts from base and extends upwards. Also the leaves shows necrosis at margins which later extends to mid rib and results in drying of entire leaf.
Control: Use healthy, disease free certified seeds. Keep the fields free from weeds. Remove the infected plants and burn them. Control vectors by treating seed and/ foliar spray with suitable insecticide. Follow crop rotation with non cereals at least for two seasons. Plant maize only in main rainy season instead of short rainy season. Grow available resistant varieties.
Northern Leaf Blight
It starts as gray-green lesions on leaves. As the disease progresses this lesions become pale gray to tan color. Later stage the lesions looks dirty due to dark gray spores particularly under lower leaf surface.
Control: Follow proper tillage to reduce fungus inoculum from crop debris. Practice crop rotation with non host crop. Grow available resistant varieties. In severe case of disease incidence apply suitable fungicide.
Downy Mildew disease
The disease appear as early from two weeks after sowing resulting in chlorosis and stunting. In older plants the leaves shows mottling, chlorotic streaking and lesions and white striped leaves. Usually the leaves are narrower and more erect when compare to healthy plants and are covered with a white, downy growth on both surfaces.
Control: Grow available resistant varieties and hybrids. Follow crop rotation with non host crops. Use suitable systemic fungicide for both seed treatment and foliar spray. Keep the fields free from weeds. Drying seeds before sowing reduces the disease incidence.
Bacterial leaf blight
It appears as water-soaked linear lesions on leaves as they emerge; lesions turn brown and may subsequently turn gray or white; lesions may have a red border; after the leaves are mature, lesions do not tend to extend any further; no new lesions tend to appear after tasseling; if corn variety is susceptible, mature leaves may shred after maturity
Control: Resistant hybrids should be planted in areas where the disease is prevalent; plowing crop debris into soil and rotating crop may not be effective at controlling the disease due to its extensive host range
The most common maize pests include:-
Heavy infestations of aphids can result in curled leaves and stunted plants; honeydew secretions promote growth of sooty mold. Aphids may transmit viruses when feeding
Control: It is rare for aphids to reach levels that are damaging to the plant and no control is generally warranted as insecticide sprays will not prevent transmission of viruses
Army worms are leaf-eating caterpillar pests of many crops. They usually feed heavily leaving only stems and mid-rib of leaves.
Control: Organic methods of controlling the army worm include biological control by natural enemies which parasitize the larvae and the application of Bacillus thuringiensis; there are chemicals available for commercial control.
They attack the stems of young transplants or seedlings.
Control: Remove all plant residue from soil after harvest or at least two weeks before planting and apply appropriate insecticides to infested areas of garden or field if not growing organically.
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 Farming in Kenya – Maize Processing
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 Farming in Kenya – Maize Marketing
Maize Farming in Kenya – Uses of Maize
- 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.
Maize Farming in Kenya – Problems Facing Maize Farming 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.