By Christabel Ligami
Roselida Awinja from Mbale in Vihiga County is a delighted farmer because for the first time ever she has harvested eight bags of maize from her quarter acre land. This is unlike before where she only managed to harvest two bags.
Ms Awinja is among the first farmers to be introduced to the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) 1101 maize variety in 2015 during the demonstration trials.
Commonly referred to as WE1101, the drought resistant, water efficient and fast maturing maize variety was approved in Kenya for commercial release to farmers in June 2013under the trademark DroughtTEGOTM in October 2013 through locally approved seed companies that sells it to farmers.
The mother of six says after attending a training on the WEMA maize she was convinced to try it on her quarter acre of land.
She says that she learnt about DroughtTEGO (WE1101) maize through a local nonprofit organization called Rural Outreach Programme (ROP) which selected her for trials in 2015.
“Within four months I harvested eight bags of maize. This was my first time to harvest such amount. Before that I only harvested two bags,” said Awinja.
“I sold four bags to pay for my children’s school fees and consumed the other four bags.”
This year she has already harvested her maize and she expects to get the same amount of bags.
“The best thing about the maize is that it is sweeter than the other varieties, the maize plants are strong and so they are not affected by wind or heavy rains, their cobs remain closed until harvesting time,” she said.
Another farmer in Butere, Kakamega county Fred Musungu who planted the WEMA maize on a three acre farm says he harvested 92 bags.
“I didn’t have a store for all that maize because I didn’t expect to harvest such an amount. So I had to build one,” he said.
Mr Musungu later sold 82 bags at Ksh 3,300 ($33) each. The profit he made helped him build a permanent house within one year.
The father of five who previously was a sugar cane farmer took some time to be convinced by his daughter that he would benefit more from planting maize rather than sugar cane.
“In 2015, I started off with one acre and from it I harvested 27 bags. With an expenditure of Ksh 18,000 ($180), I made a profit of Ksh 54,000 ($540) within just four months. This was unbelievable as with sugar cane, that meant money you receive after two years,” he said.
From then, he decided to clear off all his three acres of land and focus on planting maize.
The WEMA maize was introduced to the farmers in 2013 in Western Kenya (Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia) by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in partnership with grassroot organizations ROP that promotes WEMA maize hybrids among farmers.
According to Murenga Mwimali, WEMA coordinator the WE1101 takes between four and five months to mature, depending on the growing area.
“This maize variety is suited for low to medium altitude areas of 1000–1600 meters which are areas wround western Kenya and part of the Eastern Kenya,” he said.
Apart from early maturity, Dr Mwimali said the variety has good husk cover on the cob that protects the grain from damage by birds, maize weevils and grain rotting due to water sipping into the ear in the field. It is resistant to major diseases – Turcicum leaf blight, Grey leaf spot, and Maize streak virus.
Dr Mwimali noted that the improved maize variety increases yields by 20 to 35 per cent compared to the other maize varieties. If planted well, it is estimated that the improved grain will yield of 4-5t/ha (45-55 bags of 90kg size on average) under optimal conditions.
Doris Anjawa, ROP Coordinator in western Kenya said the maize seeds are sold at Ksh 400 ($4) per packet of two kilograms to farmers.
“Apart from being advised to plant the seed variety, the farmers are also trained on post harvest management practices,” said Ms Anjawa.
Farmers are advised to use the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PIC) bags that have three plastic sealed layers that prevent any entry of oxygen supply thereby preventing insect damage to the maize.
“Farmers can store their maize in these bags for as long as they want and will not have any problem weevils at any time,” she said adding that the maize consumed is free of insecticides.
ROP conducts demonstration of maize storage to the farmers all the time. Each bag cost Ksh 300 ($3).
“The challenge is that there are many maize seeds varieties in the market also being marketed as WEMA maize varieties which are substandard and when farmers plant them they do not get the expected yields,” said Ms Anjawa.
The WE1101 seeds introduced in Kenya in 2013 has substantially resulted in increased maize production compared with the other local varieties.
To date, a total of 25 DroughtTEGO hybrids have been approved for commercialization and are being grown in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, while a further 30 new hybrids have been entered into the final phase of variety registration in all five participating WEMA countries for potential release by 2015.
Experts predict that with global changes in climate regions such as East Africa are likely to be disproportionately affected by drought, making the need for resilient seed varieties paramount.