Millet farming in Kenya plays a vital role in ensuring food security and sustaining rural livelihoods. Millet, a resilient and drought-tolerant cereal crop, has been cultivated in the country for centuries, especially in arid and semi-arid regions where other crops struggle to thrive. Its significance lies in its ability to withstand adverse weather conditions and still produce reasonable yields.

Millet Farming In Kenya

Farmers across Kenya, particularly in regions like Turkana, Baringo, and parts of Eastern and Rift Valley provinces, have embraced millet farming as a viable and sustainable option. Its low water requirements make it well-suited for these dry areas, where water scarcity is a constant challenge. Millet serves as a staple food for many communities, contributing significantly to their nutritional needs.

Millets are widely cultivated as human food or as fodder for animals. The grains are similar in nutrient composition to maize but richer in protein and fibre. They fit well in popular local recipes such as Ugali and Uji.

In addition to grain and forage/fodder uses, millet crop residues are used as building material and fire wood for cooking, particularly in dry land areas. In recognition of millets nutrition value and frequent maize crop failures, the Government of Kenya is putting more emphasis on production of millet to mitigate food and nutritional security.

Ecological Requirements on Millet Farming in Kenya

Millet is mostly grown in temperate and subtropical regions. It is adapted to conditions that are too hot and too dry, and to soils too shallow and poor for successful cultivation of other cereals.

It is tolerant to a very wide temperature range but susceptible to frost. Cultivation occurs up to 3000 m altitude in the Himalayas. In Kenya millet is grown from 0 – 2400 m above sea level.ย Prosoย millet has one of the lowest water requirements of all cereals. An average annual rainfall of 200 – 450 mm is sufficient, of which 35 – 40% should fall during the growing period. Most soils are suitable for its cultivation, except coarse sand.

Climate and Temperature:

Climate and temperature play a pivotal role in determining the success of millet farming in Kenya. Millet, being a warm-season crop, thrives in regions characterized by specific climatic conditions. Optimal temperatures for its growth and development range from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius (77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit). These favorable temperatures promote efficient photosynthesis, leading to healthy vegetative growth and robust grain production.

Regions with warm climates and prolonged periods of sunshine are well-suited for millet cultivation. The crop’s sensitivity to cold temperatures makes it unsuitable for areas prone to frost or prolonged periods of low temperatures. In such climates, the crops may experience stunted growth, reduced grain yield, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

The duration of the growing season is a critical consideration for successful millet farming. Longer growing seasons allow for optimal crop maturation, ensuring the grains reach their full potential in terms of size, weight, and nutritional content. Conversely, short growing seasons, characteristic of some arid regions, demand early-maturing millet varieties to complete their life cycle within the available time frame.

To maximize the benefits of favorable temperatures, farmers carefully time the planting of millet seeds. Planting during the onset of the rainy season is common, as it ensures that the crops receive adequate moisture during their early growth stages. This reliance on timely rainfall presents both advantages and challenges, as irregular or insufficient rainfall can lead to water stress and negatively impact yield.

Water Management:

In regions with limited water availability, efficient water management becomes crucial factor for successful millet cultivation. Farmers must carefully time the planting of millet seeds to coincide with the rainy season, ensuring that the crops receive enough moisture for growth.

Drought Resistance:

One of the key ecological benefits of millet is its ability to withstand drought conditions. This resilience makes it an excellent choice for cultivation in arid and semi-arid regions, where other crops may struggle to survive.

Variety Selection:

In varietal selection, agro-climatic adaptation of the crop and farmer preference, household utilisation and market are key factors of consideration. Millet has a wide range of maturity periods. Some varieties mature in as little as 70 to 90 days (short duration) while others take about 120 days (medium) to mature. Long season varieties can take up to 180 days to mature from planting. Cultivation of short-duration varieties reduces the risk of crop failure.

Millet VarietyMaturity PeriodYield per Acre (Approx.)Important Notes
Pearl Millet75-100 days700-900 kgDrought-resistant
Finger Millet90-120 days800-1000 kgRich in iron and calcium
Foxtail Millet70-90 days600-800 kgTolerates low soil fertility
Proso Millet90-110 days700-900 kgAdaptable to various climates
Little Millet75-90 days600-800 kgGrows well in marginal soils

Important Notes:

  1. Drought Resistance: Millet varieties, such as Pearl Millet and Proso Millet, exhibit excellent drought resistance, making them suitable for cultivation in arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya. They can withstand periods of limited water availability and still produce reasonable yields.
  2. Nutritional Benefits: Finger Millet, also known as Ragi, is particularly rich in iron and calcium, making it a highly nutritious option for human consumption. It is especially beneficial for combating iron deficiency anemia and improving bone health.
  3. Adaptability: Proso Millet is known for its adaptability to various climates, including both dry and cooler regions. This versatility allows farmers to grow it in a wide range of environments, expanding its cultivation potential.
  4. Soil Tolerance: Foxtail Millet demonstrates resilience in low soil fertility conditions, making it suitable for marginal lands where other crops may struggle to grow. Its ability to thrive in such soils provides an opportunity to cultivate millet in diverse landscapes.

Soil Fertility and Preparation:

Dry ploughing is advantageous to kill the weed seeds and hibernating insects and pathogens by exposing them to the heat. Initial ploughing should be carried out at optimum moisture range to get fine seedbed and should be avoided when moisture is in excess.

For pearl millet, prosso and foxtail millets, birds are a major threat in all major millet production areas in Kenya and especially where isolated production takes place. In such areas, isolated fields far from homesteads and near birds breeding sites should be avoided.

Timely land preparation facilitates timely planting which ensures higher yield. Millet is a small seeded crop and therefore requires a fine seedbed, for good seed germination and seedling establishment. If a tractor or oxen plough is used to open the field, it is advisable to harrow it once in order to break the large soil boulders.

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When hand-hoes are used for land preparation, the large soil boulders should be reduced by breaking them to provide a moderately smooth seed bed. Land preparation should ensure that all crop residues, crop volunteers and weeds are completely buried in the soil.

Millet Farming In Kenya 2023
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Most soils in millet production areas are deficient in essential macronutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), which are essential for adequate crop growth. To correct these deficiencies, a wide range of organic and inorganic fertilizers are recommended.

During planting, it is recommended to apply NPK (20:20:0 or 23:23:0) at a rate of one bag (50 kgs) or DAP (18:46:0) 25 kg/ha per acre. Planting fertilizer is drilled along the planting furrow and thoroughly mixed with soil before seeds are planted. In soils with low fertility and in instances where rainfall continues beyond 30 days after planting, top dress with CAN at a rate of one bag (25 Kgs) per acre when the crop three weeks after germination.

The best soil pH for millet farming typically ranges between 6.0 and 7.5. This pH range is considered slightly acidic to neutral, which creates an ideal environment for millet crops to thrive. In this pH range, the soil provides a good balance of essential nutrients, making them readily available for plant uptake.

Manure improves nutrients level in the soil. It also improves the soil structure and increases moisture retention capacity of the soil. Well-decomposed manure (2 tons/Acre) is broadcasted in the field close to the onset of the rains and mixed with the soil during ploughing. In case of low volumes of manure, it can be spread in bands along the planting furrows and mixed with the soil before seeds are placed

Spacing and seed rate

If the population is too high at emergence, thin when plants are about 15 cm tall, 2 weeks after emergence. Seed rate (when planted in furrows):

  • Finger millet – 3 kg/ha
  • Pearl millet – 5 kg/ha
  • Fox tail millet – 4 kg/ha
  • Prosoย millet – 4 kg/ha

For sole cropping the following distances should be followed:

  • Pearl millet varieties: 15 cm between seeds and 60 cm between rows
  • Finger millet, foxtail andย Prosoย millet: 10 cm between seeds and 30 cm between rows.

Planting Millet In Kenya

The full production potential of millets can be achieved through planting before or at the onset of the rains by either drilling in furrows made by oxen plough, tractor or hand hoe/jembe, or planting in holes dug by a jembe or panga. The recommended planting depth is 5 cm on dry soils, and 2 and/or 4 cm on wet soils.

The spacing of planting furrows depends on; the type of millet being used and whether it is a sole or intercrop. For pearl millet sole cropping, 15 cm between seeds and 60 cm between rows is recommended when hand planting is done, however a spacing of 90 cm between row and 20 cm when using ox-plough can be used.

For finger millet, foxtail and Proso millet a spacing 10 cm between seeds and 30 cm between rows is recommended. The seed rate for Pearl millet is 2-3 kg/acre, finger millet is 1.2 kg/acre, prosso millet is 1.6 kg/acre and fox tail millet is 1.6 kg/acre.

Husbandry

Millet benefits fromย intercroppingย with legumes such as green gram andย cowpeas. It can also be rotated with legume crops to benefit from the soil improvement facilitated by these crops orย intercroppedย with other non-cereal crops. Application ofย farmyard manureย at 8-10 tons/ha is recommended in order to improve the soilย organicย matter content, moisture retention ability and soil structure. Phosphorous should be applied in the form of rock phosphate. Weeding should be done twice, first time 2-3 weeks after emergence and second weeding about two weeks later.

Weeding

The first weeding should be done within 2 weeks after emergence, as the yield components that determine the grain filling capacity are determined within 45 days after emergence. Two weeding sessions in a season are recommended. Chemical weeding can also be done using recommended pre-emergence herbicides.

Thinning

Due to the millets seed size the population is always high at emergence. To reduce competition for nutrients, water and sunlight within the seedlings, thinning must be done to single plant per stand 3 weeks after emergence (at 3-4th leaf stage). Wider spacing on sandy soils allows individual plant to develop more lateral roots and make the plants more resilient to droughts.

The general recommendation is that thinning should be done when the soil is moist to ensure minimal disturbance of the roots of the remaining plants for a healthy growth. While thinning the less vigorous, diseased or weak seedlings is recommended. If necessary, thinned healthy seedlings can be used to fill in gaps in places where emergence was poor. Seedlings used for gapping should be used on the same day that they are thinned out, and adequate moisture should be available or provided to facilitate their re-establishment

Roguing

Rouging is done at plant maturity to ensure quality seed or grain. This is the removal of plants that are less vigorous (weak), diseased or attached by pests. It also involves the removal of plants that display off type characteristics like being taller, having different flower and grain colour from the majority of other plants.

Harvesting

Harvest takes place 2-4 months after sowing, when the grain has a moisture content of 14-15%.

Millet grains should be harvested as soon as they are physilogically mature. Late harvesting may lead to lodging leading to losses and grain deterioration due to rapid changes in temperatrue and humidity. In hand harvesting the panicle is cut from the standing stalk at about 16-20% moisture content and the stalks are used as animals feed.

The panicles should be kept off the soil on raised platforms, mats, or trays while drying for threshing.

Millet can be threshed by beating the panicles with sticks or using manual or mechanised threshers. After the grain has been threshed, it must be dried again to a moisture content of 13% or less. The threshed grain should be dried on plastic tarpaulins, mats, plastic sheets or wire mesh trays raised on a platform. Spread the grain thinly on the drying surface to allow air to pass through it and turn the grain regularly to avoid overheating. Protect the grain from rain, insects, animals and dirt.

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The dryness of the grain can be tested before threshing using:

  • Teeth (the grains are brittle when bitten) or pinching with the fingers
  • Salt testing: Dry salt is put into a dry glass bottle and the grain added then shaken. After some minutes if the salt sticks to the sides of the bottle, then the grain moisture content is above 15% but if salt does not stick then the grain has the correct moisture content
  • Moisture metre

A more objective approach is to use the โ€˜salt methodโ€™. Dry salt will absorb moisture from grain. This principle can be used to help determine whether a grain sample has moisture content of above or below 15%.

The salt must first be dried by spreading it out on some plastic sheeting in the hot sun and leaving it for at least 3 – 4 hours until it is hard. It should be turned at intervals during this time. It can also be dried in an oven. The dry salt should be placed in a sealed container until it is ready for use.

Storage

Millet grain should be sun-dried to the recommended moisture content of 12-13 % and dusted with actellic gold. The grain is then kept in either metal or plastic containers. If 90 kg sisal bags are used, they should be kept in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place. If grain is kept for more than 90 days especially in hot areas, a second dusting is recommended after 3 months.

Processing and Utilization

Millet is a high-energy, nutritious cereal. It is particularly recommended for children, lactating mothers, convalescents and the elderly. Some of the healthy benefits of millet includes; prevention of certain types of cancer, help control diabetes, offer a dietary option for people with Celiac disease, improve digestive health, build strong bones, promote red blood cell development, and boost energy and fuel production. Pearl millet is traditionally used for making a variety of foods including thin porridge, โ€œUgaliโ€ and local brew

Yield per Acre:

The yield per acre in millet farming depends on various factors, such as soil fertility, water availability, pest and disease management, and the adoption of modern agricultural practices. On average, millet yields in Kenya can range from 600 to 1000 kilograms per acre, though higher yields can be achieved under optimal conditions.

The choice of millet variety also plays a significant role in determining yield. Some varieties have higher grain output compared to others, while certain hybrids and improved varieties may offer better yields under specific ecological conditions.

Farmers can enhance yields by practicing good soil fertility management, timely and adequate irrigation or rainwater harvesting, and implementing sustainable agricultural techniques. Moreover, adopting modern farming technologies and best practices, including the use of quality seeds, can positively impact yields and overall farm productivity.

Pest and Disease Management:

Insects and pests can pose significant threats to millet crops. Implementing natural pest control methods, such as neem-based sprays and encouraging beneficial insects, helps protect the plants from infestations.

Here are some common pests and diseases, along with their management strategies:

Pests that affect millet farming in Kenya:

  1. Aphids (e.g., Millet Aphid):
    • Management: Introduce natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings, or use insecticidal soaps or neem-based sprays to control aphid populations. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, as it can attract aphids.
  2. Birds:
    • Management: Install scare devices, reflective materials, or nets to deter birds from feeding on millet grains during the ripening stage. Scarecrows and noise-making devices can also help keep birds away.
  3. Grasshoppers and Locusts:
    • Management: Regular monitoring and early detection are crucial. Use physical barriers, like mesh nets, to prevent their entry into the fields. Natural predators and biopesticides can also be employed to control grasshopper and locust populations.
  4. Shoot Fly:
    • Management: Plant early-maturing millet varieties to escape the peak shoot fly infestation period. Apply neem-based products to repel shoot flies or use resistant millet varieties.

Diseases that affect millet farming in Kenya:

  1. Downy Mildew:
    • Management: Plant resistant millet varieties. Avoid overhead irrigation, as the disease thrives in humid conditions. Fungicides can be used if necessary, following recommended application guidelines.
  2. Ergot Disease:
    • Management: Remove infected plants promptly to prevent the spread of ergot spores. Crop rotation and avoiding planting millet near grassy weeds, which serve as alternate hosts, can also help control the disease.
  3. Rust:
    • Management: Choose resistant millet varieties. Maintain proper plant spacing to improve air circulation and reduce humidity levels, which can help prevent rust development. Fungicides may be used if rust becomes severe.
  4. Millet Head Smut:
    • Management: Plant certified disease-free seeds. Use fungicide seed treatments to protect seeds from infection. Crop rotation and avoiding planting millet in consecutive seasons can reduce the risk of head smut.
  5. Leaf Blight:
    • Management: Practice crop rotation to break the disease cycle. Plant resistant varieties when available. Avoid overhead irrigation and ensure proper drainage to minimize leaf blight development.
  6. Smut Diseases (Kernel and Loose Smut):
    • Management: Treat seeds with hot water to reduce smut spores. Plant resistant millet varieties. Destroy any volunteer plants to prevent the spread of smut pathogens.
  7. Stalk Rot:
    • Management: Implement proper drainage practices to prevent waterlogged soil, which can exacerbate stalk rot. Plant millet at the recommended spacing to improve airflow and reduce humidity around plants.

TAKE AWAY ON MILLET FARMING IN KENYA

The main points to remember in millet production and crop protection are:

  1. Plant clean certified seeds to prevent seed-borne diseases
  2. Ensure timely land preparation and timely planting to take advantage of rain and control diseases
  3. Accurate and timely disease identification is critical to undertake correct management decisions in urgent cases
  4. Use disease free planting materials from reliable dealers
  5. Uproot and destroy severely infected plants by burning
  6. Maintain a weed free field to reduce competition and alternative hosts for diseases
  7. Scout your fields regularly to identify problems before they get out of control
  8. Prevent and control of pest and diseases in all stages to minimize loss (quantity and quality)
  9. Only use pesticides if the physical and cultural control methods are not working

FAQS

  1. What are the different types of millet grown in Kenya?

There are four main types of millet grown in Kenya: pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, and teff. Pearl millet is the most common type of millet grown in Kenya, and it is used to make a variety of foods, including porridge, ugali, and roti. Finger millet is another popular type of millet grown in Kenya, and it is used to make a type of bread called injera. Foxtail millet is a less common type of millet grown in Kenya, but it is a good source of protein and fiber. Teff is a type of millet that is native to Ethiopia, but it is becoming more popular in Kenya. Teff is a good source of iron and calcium.

  1. What are the climate and soil conditions required for growing millet in Kenya?
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Millet is a drought-tolerant crop that can be grown in a variety of soil conditions. However, millet does best in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Millet can be grown in a variety of climates, but it does best in warm, dry climates.

  1. What are the best practices for planting and harvesting millet in Kenya?

Millet is typically planted in the early rainy season. The seeds should be planted at a depth of 2.5 to 4 centimeters. The spacing between plants will depend on the type of millet being grown. For example, pearl millet should be spaced 60 centimeters apart, while finger millet should be spaced 30 centimeters apart. Millet can be harvested when the heads of the plants turn brown and dry.

  1. What are the pests and diseases that can affect millet crops in Kenya?

The most common pests that can affect millet crops in Kenya are stem borers, armyworms, and grasshoppers. The most common diseases that can affect millet crops in Kenya are downy mildew, rust, and smut.

  1. How can I improve the yield of my millet crop in Kenya?

There are a number of things you can do to improve the yield of your millet crop in Kenya. These include:

  • Planting high-quality seeds
  • Using the right amount of fertilizer
  • Irrigating your crop during dry periods
  • Controlling pests and diseases
  • Rotating your crops
  1. What are the nutritional benefits of millet?

Millet is a very nutritious grain. It is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Millet is also gluten-free, so it is a good choice for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities.

  1. What are some of the traditional uses of millet in Kenya?

Millet has been used for centuries in Kenya. It is a staple food in many parts of the country. Millet is used to make a variety of foods, including porridge, ugali, and roti. Millet is also used to make beer and other alcoholic beverages.

  1. What are some of the modern uses of millet in Kenya?

Millet is becoming increasingly popular in Kenya as a health food. It is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Millet is also gluten-free, so it is a good choice for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities. Millet is used to make a variety of foods, including porridge, ugali, and roti. Millet is also used to make beer and other alcoholic beverages.

  1. What are the challenges of growing millet in Kenya?

The main challenges of growing millet in Kenya are:

  • Low yields
  • Pests and diseases
  • Poor soil fertility
  • Lack of access to markets
  1. What are the opportunities for growing millet in Kenya?

The opportunities for growing millet in Kenya are:

  • The growing demand for healthy foods
  • The increasing popularity of gluten-free foods
  • The availability of government support for millet farmers
  1. What are the organizations that are working to promote millet farming in Kenya?

There are a number of organizations that are working to promote millet farming in Kenya. These include:

  • The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)
  • The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries
  • The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB)
  • The Kenya Millet Consortium
  1. What are the resources available to help millet farmers in Kenya?

There are a number of resources available to help millet farmers in Kenya. These include:

  • Government extension services
  • Farmer training programs
  • Technical assistance
  • Financial support
  1. What are the future prospects for millet farming in Kenya?

The future prospects for millet farming in Kenya are very positive. The demand for millet is growing, and there is government support for millet farmers.

  1. Where can I buy millet seeds in Kenya?

Millet seeds can be bought from a number of places in Kenya, including:

  1. What is the cost of millet seeds in Kenya?

The cost of millet seeds in Kenya varies depending on the type of millet, the quantity, and the source. However, millet seeds are generally relatively inexpensive.

  1. How much millet can I expect to harvest from a single acre?

The amount of millet you can expect to harvest from a single acre will depend on a number of factors, including the type of millet, the climate, the soil conditions, and the management practices. However, you can generally expect to harvest between 1 and 2 tons of millet per acre.

  1. What are the different ways to cook millet?

Millet can be cooked in a variety of ways, including:

  • Boiling
  • Roasting
  • Steaming
  • Grinding into flour
  1. What are some of the health benefits of eating millet?

Millet is a very nutritious grain. It is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Millet is also gluten-free, so it is a good choice for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities.

  1. What are some of the recipes that use millet?

There are a number of recipes that use millet. Some popular recipes include:

  • Millet porridge
  • Millet ugali
  • Millet roti
  • Millet beer
  • Millet cakes
  1. Where can I find more information about millet farming in Kenya?

There are a number of resources available to learn more about millet farming in Kenya. These include:

  • The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) website
  • The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries website
  • The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) website
  • The Kenya Millet Consortium website

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