Its all in the seed
Hybrid vegetable seeds possess all the qualities desired by a farmer
As small-scale farmers increasingly look to improve their vegetable production on limited land, more and more of them are realizing that a high quality certified seed holds the key. By using certified seeds of the highest quality, they now understand that they stand more than an average chance of attaining high crop yield.
Others are becoming innovative. They are diversifying. These farmers not only use certified seeds to grow vegetables for their own consumption and commercial purposes, they are now using them to raise seedlings for other small-scale farmers at a price.
This is a new development, considering the fact that Kenya’s small-scale farmers are not in the habit of growing vegetables from certified seeds, leave alone using certified seedlings for this purpose.
William Kahare, a small-scale farmer in Ndeiya, Limuru of Kiambu County is a good example of one such farmer.
Besides being a successful small-scale greenhouse farmer, Kahare has demonstrated that growing seedlings from certified seeds for other small-scale farmers can be a lucrative venture on its own right.
As a matter of fact Kahare is now struggling to cope with the surging demand for seedlings grown from high quality certified seeds.
“There is a high demand for these seedlings. Farmers are placing orders at an increasingly high rate,” says Kahare, who is being helped by seven farmhands in his six-acre Ndeiya-Mirela Farm, a few kilometres from Nairobi. Four of these farmhands are specifically hired for tending seedlings.
Kahare singles out cabbage seedlings grown from the Gloria F1 hybrid seeds, which as far as he is concerned, ranks as the favourite among his clients. He gets his seeds from Simlaw Seed Company.
Thirty farmers have already bought the Gloria F1 seedlings from Kahare, and orders are coming in fast and furious.
“Gloria F1 is a very good seed because it is drought resistant in addition to the fact that its pre-harvest and post-harvest shelf life is very good,” he confirms, adding that there are 10 farmers still waiting for seedlings to be delivered.
He sells these cabbage seedlings for KSH 1.50 each. He explains that between 10, 000 and 20, 000 Prostar F1 tomato seedlings find their way out of his farm and into his client’s farms in any given month. And if requested Kahare delivers seedlings to the farmer, wherever they may be.
“If the farmer wishes to be helped with transplanting, we are more than happy to oblige,” he says.
Sweet pepper seedlings go for KSH 10 each and a farmer will pay KSH 5 for Prostar F1 tomato seedling grown at Ndeiya-Mirela Farm. Simlaw Seed Company also sells this tomato variety.
“Even though the price for these seeds has gone up, I am not complaining much,” he chuckles, rather meaningfully.
Ndeiya-Mirela Farm concentrates on growing seedlings meant for transplanting in the greenhouse, even though open field seedlings are also available.
“We can prepare up to fifty seedling trays per day depending on the orders placed by farmers,” says Mrs. Kahare, who assists her husband in the seedling business.
It was not all smooth-sailing, five years back when Kahare began. He confesses that he lacked the necessary knowledge of raising vegetable seedlings at the time.
“I was not very well informed at the time but I have since been assisted by experts from different companies,” he reiterates. Some of these companies include Kenya Seed, Osho Chemical and Amiran Kenya.
Mrs. Kahare is urging small-scale farmers to begin growing vegetables professionally, will ensure high seed germination rates.
“We used to lose a lot of seeds because we were planting them in the open seed nursery, but we are more knowledgeable nowadays and we are now able to achieve up to 90 percent seed germination rate,” she says.
Farmers seeking vegetable seedlings from Ndeiya-Mirela Farm usually places their orders in advance and have to pay 50 percent upfront.
Hybrid seeds have numerous advantages unlike others including a high degree of resistance to diseases, explains James Nderitu of Simlaw Seeds.
Hybrid cabbage seeds “have a high head conversion ratio, whereby you are talking of over 95 percent will have formed heads,” says Nderitu. This compares to 60 percent of open pollinated (OPVs) cabbage varieties.
Other advantages of vegetables grown from hybrid seeds include uniform maturity, meaning that the farmer will harvest the crop al at once. Vegetables grown from high quality certified seeds have a longer shelf life.
By Geoffrey Kamadi