Kenyan farmers ditch maize and wheat over unsteady returns for strong barley

Even more attractive is the fact that barley market prices are determined by beer brewing companies, depending on moisture and nitrogen content.

Grain farmers in the North Rift are ditching Maize and wheat in favor of barley and sorghum following an assured market and better prices.

Mr. George Kili, a large scale farmer in Soy, Uasin Gishu County, said he was attracted to barley production due to its attractive and guaranteed returns.

“The prices are between Sh3,300 and Sh3,600 per bag, depending on quality. We started with a small acreage but drastically increased it from 2013,”  he said.

Mr. Kili has been contracted by a brewer and is, therefore, assured of a ready market compared to maize and wheat farmers who have no ready market and are exposed to vulgarities of the market.

Over the past four years, he has doubled the acreage under barley from 200 to 400.

Mr Samuel Cheruiyot, another farmer from lower Moiben, who used to plant maize before shifting now has over 100 acres of barley and says the returns are much better compared to wheat and maize.

“I used to grow maize and wheat but for the past two years, I have switched to barley, owing to growing demand by beer making firms,” he said.

Maize and wheat prices have in the past four years fluctuated due to supply and demand factors.

While the prices of barley and sorghum have remained constant, the cost of a 90kg bag of maize and wheat have, on average, been Sh3,000  ($300) and Sh3,200, respectively.

As a result, there is a reduction in the acreage under maize and wheat, which have traditionally been the dominant crops.

The Ministry of Agriculture projects harvests of 32.8 million bags of wheat, down from 37.1 last year — a decline of 11.5 per cent.

Maize production is also forecast to drop by 4.3 million bags this year, owing to delayed rains and drought predicted to occur.

The situation has further been worsen by the recent army worm attack.

Kenya produces an estimated 500,000 tonnes of wheat against an annual consumption of a million tonnes, forcing the country to import the deficit, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

The main barley growing areas are Naivasha, Molo, Narok, Nakuru and Laikipia.

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