Wheat in Kenya
Wheat is the second most important cereal grain in Kenya after maize. Wheat farming in Kenya is largely done for commercial purposes on a large-scale. Kenya is self-sufficient in the hard variety of wheat, but is a net importer of the softer variety.
Wheat Farming in Kenya
Wheat farming dates back to the colonial days when it was introduced by Lord Delamere on experimental basis around Nakuru. It has since been produced on large farms in the highlands bordering the Rift Valley.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Main Growing Areas
It is mainly grown in the following areas:-
Nakuru, Trans Mara, Uasin Gishu, Nyandarua, Narok, Meru Central, Trans Nzoia, Keiyo and Laikipia.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Conditions Favouring Wheat Farming
- Gentle slope:- The land where wheat is grown is gently or fairly level and this has allowed for mechanization.
- Altitude:- The growing areas have a high altitude ranging from 1500 – 2900 mm. This reduces the incidence of diseases.
- Moderate rainfall:- The wheat growing areas receive moderate rainfall ranging from 500 mm to 1,270 mm which promotes the growth of wheat.
- Warm temperature:- Warm temperatures of 15°C to 20°C at least for three months. This enables maturity of the wheat.
- Fertile soils:- Deep fertile volcanic soils which lead to high production.
- Dry spell:- Warm dry sunny spell which enhances ripening of wheat and harvesting.
Wheat Farming in Kenya
The main species of wheat grown is the durum variety. The crop is grown both by small scale and large scale farmers. The ﬁelds are ploughed by tractors during the dry season. This is followed by several harrowings. Fertiliser is added before sowing.
Sowing is done during the cool moist part of the year through broadcasting or dibbling for poor farmers, while well endowed farmers sow with a drill at a rate of 81 kg /hectare. Seeds are drilled to a depth of at least 4 cm.
Control of weeds is done manually by small scale farmers while large scale farmers use modern scientific methods e.g. application of herbicides and spraying against diseases.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Wheat Pests and Diseases
Loose Smut:- It is a seed borne disease; infection occurs during Loose Smut flowering through wind-borne spores.The infection remains dormant inside the otherwise healthy looking seed but the plants grown from such seeds bear infected inflorescence. Infection is favored by cool, humid conditions during flowering period of the host plant.
Control : Disease can be easily controlled through seed treatment with systemic fungicides.
Stripe Rust /Yellow Rust:- Spreads through air-borne urediospores
Control:- cultivation of resistant varieties is the main strategy of control.
Foliar Blights:- The disease requires high temperature and high humidity. This disease is more severe in late sown crop and causes substantial yield losses through formation of shrivelled grains. Most of the varieties are susceptible or moderately susceptible. The disease can be controlled through one spray of propiconazole.
Powdery Mildew:- Powdery mildew can easily be diagnosed by the white, powdery patches that form on the upper surface of leaves and stem. With age, the patches turn dull dirty white and may have small black specks embedded. This disease can spread to all aboveground parts of the plant, including earhead and awns. The disease infects plants during periods of high humidity (not necessarily rain) and cool to moderate temperatures. Low light intensity, which accompanies dry weather and a dense crop canopy favours this disease.
Control: Avoid excessively dense, stands by using adequate seed. For chemical control, one spray of propi-conazole on disease appearance.
Head Scab:- This disease is favoured by cool, moist weather with high humidity. Spores are produced on crop debris and reach the leaves through rain splash or wind. Apart from ear head infection, it can cause seedling blight and foot rot leading to lodging. In severe cases, it can cause shriveling of grains and low-test weights.
Seed Gall Nematode/ Ear cockle:- The nematodes are spread through seed galls in the seed lots during planting and harvesting. Wet weather favors larval movement and infestation. The nematode invades the crown and basal stem area, finally penetrating floral primordia. This leads to formation of nematode galls in ear heads.
Control: Use of clean seed.
Aphids:- They can cause considerable damage, especially when feeding in large numbers but under normal conditions, losses are not much. Chemical pesticides are recommended for this pest in wheat.
Brown Wheat Mite:- The Brown wheat cause damage through mite infestation sucking mouth parts. When present in large numbers, mites cause a silvery flecking on leaves.
Legume pod-borer:- This is an insect that attacks various legumes as a pod border. It is seen damaging wheat ear heads at grain development stage when major hosts are not available.
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Wheat Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
When the crop is ready for harvesting, the small scale farmers use simple tools e.g.sickles or sharp knives to cut the wheatheads. The cut wheat is threshed dried and winnowed. Large scale farmers use machines mainly combine harvesters.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Wheat Processing
After harvesting the wheat is milled to obtain wheat flour. The milling process grinds the wheat into tiny particles which is then sifted out as flour. The yellowish flour is bleached to give the attractive white colour of the commercial flour.
The ﬂour provides nutritious food and the waste (wheat bran) is used as chicken or dairy feed. Wheat ﬂour is used industrially in distilleries, bakeries and straw plating.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Marketing
The producers may sell the wheat to the National Cereals and Produce Board, a Government parastatal or directly to the millers e.g. Unga Limited. All the wheat produced is consumed locally.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Importance of Wheat Farming
Wheat has benefited the economy of Kenya in the following ways:-
- Promotion of industrialization – Wheat farming has led to the development of related industries in the growing areas and also in the major urban centres e. g., Nairobi, Eldoret and Nakuru.These are mainly industries that deal in confectionaries.
- Improvement of infrastructure – Roads have been established in the wheat growing areas to assist in the transportation of the Rift Valley Province, this has assisted in the improvement of infrastructure.
- Saves foreign exchange – All the wheat grown in Kenya is for local consumption. However, the country still has to import some wheat to satisfy her domestic requirements. Wheat farming therefore helps the government to save foreign exchange by reducing the amount of wheat imports.
- Employment – Many people have gotten employment through wheat farming directly and indirectly. For example, while some have been employed directly on the wheat farms, others are employed in the related industries e.g bakeries and other confectionaries.
- Source of income – Through wheat fanning, farmers have earned an income directly through the sale of their crops. This has raised their standards of living and helped in alleviating poverty in the country.
Wheat Farming in Kenya – Problems Facing Wheat Farming
The productivity of wheat in Kenya is under threat due to the following:-
- Inadequate capital – Some of the small scale farmers do not have enough capital for the purchase of expensive farm input such as fertilisers, herbicides and hire farm machinery e. g., tractors and combine harvesters.
- Pests and diseases – The crop is in some instances affected by pests e.g., dusty brown beetle, aphids and the quelea birds and diseases e. g., stem rust, leaf rust, glume blotch. These destroy the crop leading to low yields.
- Climatic hazards – Heavy stormy rains during the rainy seasons destroys the crop as the Wheat is ﬂattened leading to rotting. Drought before the wheat is ready may destroy the entire crop.
- Price ﬂuctuation – Price ﬂuctuations on the domestic market leads to losses for the farmers as at times, they are made to sell their produce at very low prices.
- Inadequate storage facilities – During times of bumper harvest the existing storage facilities are rendered inadequate making the farmers produce to go to waste.