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Farming in Kenya

I watched a very interesting programme this evening on BBC2, Jimmy’s Global Harvest. I hadn’t seen the previous episodes and this was the last one, and it focused on Kenya.

First stop was in Luanda where he visited two shambas growing maize. The first showed a poor crop which did not provide enough food to feed the farmer’s family. The second, smaller farm was not only growing enough to feed his family of 8,  but had a surplus for sale.

The first farm was blighted with stem boring moth larvae, which eat the fibre of the maize plant, killing it. It also had striga weed growing among the maize plants. This weed is parasitical, seeking out the root of the maize plant and tapping it for nutrients.

So what did farmer 2 do that farmer 1 didn’t?

He used a low technology solution to combat the stem boring moth. He planted desmodium among his maize plants. Desmodium lets off a chemical that repels the stem borer moth. He also planted Napier grass (or Uganda grass, elephant grass) which attracts and traps the moth.

Desmodium has a second use inasmuch as its roots give off a chemical that actually kills the roots of the striga weed.

So farmer 2 was producing far more maize than his neighbour.


The next stop was a banana research unit in Thika, run by Dr. Florence Wambugu.

The problem fro banana growers is that to produce a new tree, farmers traditionally dig up a sucker from a main tree and transplant it. Unfortunately, he will also transplant any sickness and disease in the plant and in the ground.

Dr. Wambugu has developed a laboratory process that not only produces disease free plants, but also, she can produce 1,000 new trees from a single sucker plant. this technology is certainly NOT low tech, but it is not so complex that it could not be set up regionally.


Third stop was in Naivasha, where the control of red spider mite was the problem in the massive hot houses growing cut flowers for export. They have cut their pesticide spray by 50% by introducing a bug called phytoseiulus, which eats red spider mites, then themselves, leaving the plants virtually bug-free.


The programme continued with a visit to the north-east where camels are farmed for their milk and finally to Selengei were it was found that the Maasai red sheep has built up an immunity to wire worm, neither of which were relevant to our River Cottage plot in Kisii, or to farming in Nyanza in general.

But, we know farmers in our area who grow maize and have a problem with stem borers, and others with diseased banana trees, so a bit more research by KCIS, then an educational trip is called for, I guess.

  1. w t moonie
    January 29, 2010 at 15:15

    Fascinated by content of programme particularly re bananas at Thika. I assist a charity which faces similar problems in Nyaishosi N W Tanzania and we would like to send someone to meet Dr WAMBUGU How do we make contact ?
    Also need more info re pest control on maize farm
    Programme was superb

    • January 29, 2010 at 18:20

      Dr Wambugu is Pres. of Harvest Biotech foundation which has a website at http://africaharvest.org/site/ where there is a contact page.
      As for maize pest control, I will be sourcing desmodium on my next trip – elephant grass (napier) shouldn’t be a problem as it is grown as cattle feed.

  2. tabitha
    December 18, 2010 at 08:43

    Thank you for your observations on issues concerning farming in kenya. Its equiping us with knowledge. Just wondering if you have information on how to best farm maize commercially in Kirinyaga district of central province on a 1 acre piece of land. any advice will be highly appreciated.

  1. January 29, 2010 at 01:23

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