Seed scientists at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute are conducting a national performance trial for three new finger millet varieties capable of guaranteeing high yields in addition to tolerance for drought, striga weed and blast disease.
The new varieties, due early next year, include U-15, Gulu and Okahale-1 which would be made available to seven largely finger millet growing regions in Western Kenya.
The regions are currently growing an improved variety known as P-224 which was released to farmers in 1990. The seven regions have a combined population of 2.8 million people whose livelihood depended on millet farming.
Chrispus Oduori, KARI’s principal research officer on the finger millet breeding said that the project would have a positive impact on 10 million people in the country in the long run.
The seven selected region currently commit about 1000 hectares to finger millet cultivation.
The indigenous varieties grown by most Kenyan farmers has the yield of between 500kg and 700 kg per hectare while the yield of the P-224 variety released in 1990 is about 2500kg per hectare but information on its availability remained unknown to many local farmers.
However, scientists at KARI said that the new varieties would have a yield up to 2900kg per hectare.
Oduori said the three varieties were drought escaping and mature early. “From planting, these three varieties take 110 to 115 days to mature, while the conventional varieties take over 130 days. The new varieties have better malting qualities and due to their high nutritional value are ideal for making baby foods.”
The scientists were hopeful the finger millet would offer a better alternative to maize. They said finger millet have a better post harvest traits than maize and would not require chemicals to ward off grain borers like weevils.
“Dried finger millet can be stored for up to 10 years without spoiling or requiring preservative chemicals,” the scientists noted.