Hybrid seed a solution to food insecurity

29/Apr/2016 12:35:43 am
Hybrid seed a solution to food insecurity

Food scarcity cycles in Kenya have reduced from 20 years (1964-1984), to 12 years (1984-1996), to two years (2004-2006) and to a year (2007-2009). The government has consequently distributed 528,341 metric tonnes of relief food worth Ksh20 billion ($235.3 million) to 3.5 million people in the past five years.

The United Nations defines food security as "all people at all times having both physical and economic access to the basic food they need". The big or breakthrough question is: What will it take the government to make the country food secure in terms of physical and economic access to food?

The answer lies in appreciating the diversity in agronomic potential of different agro-ecological zones and commitment to develop region-specific strategies to address food scarcity.

The results of a recent on-farm demonstration in Kitui County by the Kenya Environmental Resource Network (KERN-Kenya) indicate that farmers in that area can earn Ksh6 million ($70, 600) without using hybrid seed. Using the farm gate price of Ksh20 (23.5 US cents) per kg one can make Ksh240,000 ($282) from a hectare (2.47acres) of hybrid (F1) watermelon variety known as Sukari.

A demonstration conducted by Dr Juma Nyamai, CEO, KERN Kenya, yielded 300 tonnes of the fruit. If not using hybrid seed, one will harvest 12 tonnes based on the national horticulture report. It takes the variety used in the demonstration between 72 - 90 days from planting to harvesting, meaning a farmer can pick four crops in year.

The lesson here is: Farmers in Kitui and other arid and semi-arid areas can attain economic access to food through appropriate interventions. Such interventions will have to prioritize local production of high quality hybrid seed to make it affordable. In the case of the KERN demo, a kilogramme of the seed costs Ksh17,000 ($200) - definitely out of reach of most smallholder farmers. Add to this erratic weather patterns, lack of guaranteed markets and prices and the farmer has every reason to give hybrid seeds a wide berth. Of the estimated 18,000ha (44,479 acres) under greenhouse tomato cultivation in Kenya, only 2,000ha (4, 942 acres) are planted with hybrid varieties.

The situation calls for investing in the local production of high quality hybrid seeds as it guarantees availability at affordable prices. This has been demonstrated with maize seed with locally produced hybrid (F1) maize costing Ksh230 ($2.70) per kg compared with Ksh380 ($4.47) per kg of imported varieties.

In Kenya, only the Ruiru-based Syngenta-pollen produces hybrid vegetable seeds. The site is a satellite breeding station for Syngenta Seeds of Netherlands, implying that seed produced at this station cannot be sold in the local market directly but is taken to Netherlands for packaging before it is distributed.

Droughts, floods and the prevalence of pests and diseases creates an urgent need to avail seeds tolerant to ecological factors to enable economic crop production. Currently, smallholder tomato greenhouses in Nyanza and Western Kenya are turning into white elephants due to the bacterial wilt disease. For example, a tomato project of 14 greenhouses in Wamuini, Kitale County, estimated at Ksh2 million ($23, 500) has been ravaged by the disease.

The situation in smallholder greenhouse farming has been exacerbated by lack of an economically viable rotational crop to tomato. Syngenta East Africa recently introduced a hybrid cucumber (Trinidad F1) as a rotational crop in the greenhouses to tomatoes - as did the Kenya Highland Seed Company with the Water Melon Black Magic F1. The high-end colour capsicum that enjoys a good market in the United Arab Emirates is also a good alternative. The latest viable hybrid varieties of capsicum are Commandant F1 - Red and Admiral F1 - Yellow. The Red Onion Hybrid (Red Passion F1) is also a suitable rotational crop in bacteria wilt infested greenhouses due to its high wilt resistance.

According to projected sales records of hybrid seed by major dealers such as Syngenta and Monsanto only 10 per of horticulture seed in the country is hybrid. And this figure could be lower at 5 per cent. The two local leading seed companies, Kenya Seed and East African Seed, do not actually produce hybrid seed for horticulture but multiply the comparatively inferior open pollinated products. The country will thus not address food scarcity adequately if sufficient resources are not invested in local production of hybrid seed.

Although investment in research for breeding high quality seed is a long-term solution, the government currently allocates about Ksh20 million annually according to Dr Lusike Wasilwa, the head of the horticulture department at KARI. This money goes into the national research on horticultural crops, but this should be raised substantially. However, the annual budget for leading companies such as Syngenta is approximately Ksh80 million (Just under a million dollars) towards breeding programmes.

Tanzania, through the Africa Vegetable Research Development Centre, which mainly deals with indigenous vegetable seeds such as amaranthus and nightshade recently introduced locally-bred hybrid tomato known as Tanya.

The more likely immediate solution to inaccessibility to hybrid seed by smallholder farmers is developing workable and agreeable business arrangement between leading local and multinational seed companies. Such business arrangements already exist but to a limited extent. For instance, Simlaw Seeds and Syngenta are jointly marketing Gloria F1 and Pructor F1 cabbage varieties; Farmchem and DuPont are jointly marketing Pioneer seed maize. Under such arrangements, the multinational seed companies benefit from marketing structures established by the local companies. The government can further provide incentives ilike tax reduction for multinational seed companies that undertake such joint ventures. It is imperative for the government , a non-partisan player, to spearhead the campaign for smallholders to adopt hybrid seeds.

Breeding temperate crops in tropics presents major technical challenges and vice-versa. This is why seed companies based in temperate climate with interest in breeding seed for tropics set up satellite breeding station in the tropics. The government can therefore pursue the possibility of establishing satellite breeding stations in temperate countries to produce seed for the local market.


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11 Comment(s)
Magdalene Mwende

awesome farm in Ruiru. the visit was a testament of a real DREAM made possible through a incremental journey


i have been planting maize at my farm at kapkangani sublocation; Emugwen Division; Nandi centro district;Nandi county.but it has been hard to get good harvest.when i tried to inquire from the nearest kenya seed retail shop,i was told to have used unrecomended seeds,and it was H614,How can you advice in future to get the right seeds and where'


how can i get good variety for waru [shangai].home district,Nandi central,Emugwen division,Nandi county.

mike kihia

I want to grow watermelons in our farm at Kiambogo at Elementaita. Other farmers have tried growing it without success but am told that the sukari F1 seed can work. Its very expensive going at 5k per half kilo so am wondering if i should take the risk. kindly advise.


I am a resident from marsabit county of eastern province , i planted watermelon variety crimson dec 2011 and harvested 1.2 tonnes of which the biggest watermelon is 16kg while the smallest is three kg and i was motivated to go into farming entrepreneur. I kindly request your advice because i want to start with three acres. thanks


Hybrid seeds in general are products of big corporations. Their ultimate goal is profit and NOT food for all or food for health. Hybrid seeds in general are GMO (genetically modified organisms) and are very costly. Many farmers around the world have committed suicide because these kind of seeds have destroyed their land and their crop. Please DO NOT use these seeds in Kenya. Instead, look for organic seeds like the ones from These are pure organic. Stay local, support local and say NO to hybrid seeds that destroy our land. Thanks and good luck. Kenyan in Canada.

Njoki Mugo

I have watermelon F1 Sukari on my farm in Embu. I had planted 3/4 of an acre, and now am stumped as to where to supply it to, please help


I would like to know the best variety for watermelon to be planted in the semi arid area of Ukambani. My interest is in a fast maturing variety which gives a good weight when mature. Please specify among the "zebra" type and the deep green varieties. Kindly assist.

Watermelon kenya expert

@Grace, You can try growing the Watermelon hybrid called Sukari F1, it will give you and average fruit size of 7-8kg assuming all nutrients and water is sufficient and you let only a max of 3 fruits per vine. Its a Zebra type and not too susceptible to diseases - it is also unusaly very sweet for large melons, in many cases even sweeter than the smaller sugar baby. It matures in about 70-90days depending on climatic conditions and water stress, the hotter the faster.

for more tips contact me at / +254725812827 good luck

Brother Akumu

The issue is not with the seeds. Pure and natural, non-hybrid, and non-GMO seeds have worked to feed humans for millions of years. The issue is with the farming method used, which today is unnatural, and therefore needs unnatural seeds. I implore all farmers to look into PERMACULTURE and AQUAPONICS systems. These two methods have been tried and test all over the planet, from Australia, where these systems were hatched out, to India, Europe, America, and many places in Africa. These methods guarantee higher yields, no matter the seed, because the method mimics nature. I am willing to provide advice where possible. You can reach me at


@Gundy, point of correction; not all hybrid seeds are GMOs. we have also conventional breeding. in countries like Canada where GMO may be accepted by the Gov, you will definitely have a mix of both. in Kenya and many African and European countries where GMO isnt accepted yet, teh seed companies produce and market conventionally bred hybrid seeds and the Ruiru site in Kenya is a good example. so in deed hybrid seeds bred for tolerance to adverse weather, hy yieds, disease resistance, storability, etc are available. along with these, the methods of farming have to be improved otherwise we will not feed all the mouths in the next few years....its a an intergrated approach rather than a single solution.

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