Farmers at the JKUAT Foxtail millet demonstration farm

China’s hybrid millet brings hope to easing Kenya’s food crisis

Kenyan and Chinese experts collaborate to promote cultivation of Chinese hybrid foxtail millet in Kenya

 By Zablon Oyugi

Kenyan researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) are collaborating with experts from the Chinese Center for Agricultural Resources Research (CARR) to educate farmers about the effective cultivation and management of a nutritious, high-yielding Chinese hybrid foxtail millet.

This millet variety is known for its resilience to drought and diseases, making it a valuable addition to local farming practices.

The variety takes about half the time to ripen compared to most local varieties and adapts to various soils and diverse climatic conditions. It is grown both for human consumption and as feed for livestock.

Speaking during a field training course on the crop’s cultivation at the Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC) based in JKUAT, Xiaoxin Li, a researcher at CARR, lauded the Chinese hybrid foxtail millet as being disease and drought-resistant and water efficient in comparison with the more cultivated maize and rice grains.

“The Chinese hybrid foxtail millet is very popular in China for its efficiency in taking up nutrients. It grows quickest between 24-25°C and performs best in sandy loam soils or clay loam,” she outlined.

It has been grown in over 10 African countries including Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Mali, and Zimbabwe.

Climate change tolerant

Leading Chinese agricultural expert Zhao Zhihai pointed out that the crop is particularly suited to combating the challenges faced by African farmers: “It is climate change tolerant and suitable for regions with poorer soils as well as rainy and dry seasons.

The millet variety has been a big hit with Ugandan farmers for its fast maturity– 65 days, compared to local strains which take 90 to 120 days. Farmers have also noted its long seed panicle which yields more seed compared to local varieties.

Addressing food security

Prof. David Mburu from JKUAT’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said that there is a lot to borrow from China, a country that has a huge population but there is a lot of food for its population urging farmers to consider the cultivation of foxtail millet to address food security.

During the one-day training moderated by Dr. Clifford Obiero, farmers had an opportunity to visit the demonstration farm to witness the foxtail millet crop under cultivation at JKUAT.

They were also given a manual on the Chinese foxtail millet detailing the farming process from land preparation to harvesting volunteering to try the cultivation of the crop and were given seeds to plant back in their farms.

The researchers will make follow-up to assess crop performance in the field. The farmers were also encouraged to keep in touch with the researchers to share feedback.

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