© FAO/ Alessandra Benedetti



Kenya was selected for one of the case study countries because improving access to seeds and varieties and maintaining local diversity are important issues in the current agricultural development and biodiversity strategies of the country. The research results will provide the necessary evidence to overcome serious deficiencies in existing seed policies that work against the best interest of marginalized small-scale farmers in semi-arid areas of Kenya. The choice of study area (Eastern Province) and crop (pigeonpea) was made because existing seed policies emphasizing maize cultivation have led to a shift away from well-adapted dryland crops with significant levels of local diversity. These policies resulted in increased levels of food insecurity as well as in reduction of on-farm genetic diversity conservation. This situation is likely to become more acute as climate change leads to increased climatic variability, and one of the few immediate options available to small-scale farmers is to use the local crops and varieties that are better adapted to such environments.

This project was implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Crop Selected

Pigeonpea, one of ICRISAT’s research mandate crops, is an important well adapted food and cash crop for households of semi-arid eastern Kenya. Virtually all farmers in semi-arid eastern Kenya grow pigeonpea in inter-crop with maize, the main cereal staple, or sorghum or millets. Green pigeonpea has high protein and provides dietary protein to majority of farm households while dry pigeonpea, besides being a major cash earner for farm families, is an important food legume especially after drought when other staples like maize and beans have failed. Furthermore, pigeonpea plant fixes nitrogen and, through leaf fall, adds large amount of organic matter to the poor soils of eastern Kenya as well as providing fencing material and fire wood. Farmers depend on the informal seed markets for seed of the drought tolerant open pollinated crop. Semi-arid districts of Eastern Kenya account for over 90% of pigeonpea production in Kenya and Makueni District, the site of the seed markets study, is a major centre of diversity of pigeonpea in eastern Kenya.

Project site

Kenya’s 2/3 of 573,000 sq km of geographical area is classified as semi arid receiving between 500-800 mm of rain. The location of the study in semi-arid eastern Kenya, which is inhabited by over 3 million people living in the districts of Machakos, Makueni, Kitui, Mwingi, Mbeere and Tharaka, depends on informal seed system from own saved sources and local markets as sources of seed for crop production. High frequency of drought which occurs 2 out of 5 seasons increases the level of farmer participation in local seed markets due to low supply of own saved seed sources on-farm. Furthermore although there are over 53 registered seed companies in Kenya, most of them have shown little or no interest in production and marketing of seed major dryland crops due fluctuating and low demand of certified seed of these crops. Due to frequent droughts and endemic seed access problems several relief seed interventions have also been tried by the government, NGOs and IARCs to improve seed supply and food security. Nevertheless seed access problems, food insecurity and poverty still persist.


As the first project activity a reconnaissance survey of local seed markets in semi-arid eastern Kenya was conducted, followed by Focus group discussions with key informants in Makueni and Kitui Districts. Afterwards pigeonpea value chain analysis was completed. The market surveys were conducted to elicit information regarding various stakeholders (160 traders in total) in the seed and grain value chain in 8 major market-sheds in the Makueni district. This was followed by a detailed, farm-household surveys conducted in 4 major pigeonpea growing divisions, covering 400 farmers during August-September, 2007.

A detailed agro-morphometric characterization (over 250 seed samples) work was also carried out in two field locations (Kibhaco and KDM ) from the seed samples collected at the farm-household and market levels in order to understand the diversity levels provided by farm and markets for pigeon pea in the study region.