MT ELGON, 15 May 2012 (IRIN) – At least 1.3 million farmers in Kenya – more than double the figure for 2010 – do not have any maize seeds to plant this season, despite favourable weather conditions, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The “high number” of farmers without seeds is due to drought in the region and Kenya last year. “Many farmers either sold the seeds they had kept or used them as food,” Wilson Songa, secretary of agriculture at the ministry, told IRIN.

The problem has been getting worse over the past few years. “The country has witnessed an increasing number of farmers totally lacking seeds to plant over the past five years. Remember, the last time this country experienced a bumper harvest was in 2006,” Songa said.

Mary Chemutai, a widowed mother of six, is one such farmer. Her overgrown 0.4 hectare farm in the Mt Elgon region of western Kenya lies fallow, despite the good growing weather. “I didn’t have any food to feed my family because what I got last season ran out, and I couldn’t watch my children die of hunger. So we ate all the seeds I was supposed to plant this season. Now I have nothing to plant.”

She said she could set aside some of the 80 shillings ($US1) she earns daily as a farm labourer to buy seeds, but money was tight. “Some people think I don’t want to plant, but I can’t plant stones.”

Maize meal is a staple in Kenya, which produces 25,000 tons of maize seed annually against a demand of 35,000 tons. Almost 80 percent of Kenyan maize farmers plant with seed saved from the previous harvest or obtained from community seed banks, says the ministry.

“Over a million people not planting maize… means even many more people who rely on it for food will not get it… It is even worse because those farmers with seeds to plant do not have fertilizers, resulting in poor harvests,” Enoch Mwani, who teaches agriculture at the University of Nairobi, told IRIN.   Read more…