Wimbi (Finger Millet) back on the menu thanks to years of research at Kalro

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Read full article By William Inganga @ STAR- Cereal Cultivation Photo Credit: COURTESY

Gladys Kemunto began cultivating finger millet (wimbi) in 2018 after a friend told her about the crop. The friend had bought seeds from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization centre in Kisii.

Kemunto went to the centre and bought one kilogramme of seeds for Sh100.

She sowed the seeds in a quarter of an acre of her one-and-a-half-acres and reaped big. “My first harvest yielded four sacks,” she says.

She decided to give it another try. However, the weather failed her, there was no rain. “The second yield dropped because of a dry spell. I reaped only one and a half sacks,” she says.

To the single mother of two, ‘seed was seed’. “When I first planted the millet I thought any could do,” she says. However, when she went back to Kalro, she received expert advice on the kind of seed to plant and when.

Kemunto evaluated the information she had received and the range of available improved finger millet seeds. The U15, also known as Maridadi, was her choice. This type resembles a fist as it matures is dark brown in colour. Kemunto likes its colour. She also likes the fact that this type takes about three and a half months to mature.

Kalro has been at the forefront in developing seeds for a wide range of agro-ecological environments through the Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Project. The director of the Kisii Kalro Food Research Centre, Dr Chrispus Oduori, is a plant breeder.

He says plant breeding entails the development of improved varieties meant to boost production of food crops. He has been breeding finger millet for close to 30 years.

At the time that he ventured into finger millet breeding, he recalls, there were no breeders interested in the crop. The cereal was disappearing from the menus of many households.

“I felt that it was important to revive or to relook at this cereal with the objective of getting farmers to be interested in it and multiply it so that it can serve the various good purposes it used to serve previously,” says Oduori.

Different techniques are applied in plant breeding. One of them involves “looking at the germplasm that we have in different crops, selecting the correct one for different areas and if you cannot find [what you’re looking for] in the germplasm that you get then you look at hybridisation,” says the scientist.

Germplasm is living tissue from which new plants can be grown. It could be a seed or the part of a plant such as a leaf, stem, pollen or even just a few cells. This tissue contains the information for a species’ genetic makeup. The tissue serves as a valuable natural resource of plant diversity.


Dr Oduori has released six finger millet varieties. He has named some of them under the umbrella ‘Kak Wimbi series’. Kak stands for Kakamega. Dr Oduori settled on the name as he was working at the Kalro centre in Kakamega at the time.

For the Kak Wimbi one variety, “we got the germplasm from Nepal,” he says. “A uniform population of it that was extensively adapted was realised and this was put in the National Performance trials where it out-yielded the stipulated checks.”

The variety was released through the National Performance Trials and the National Release Committee under the Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Services. “It is a very well adapted highland variety and it yields quite well,” the scientist says.

In plant breeding, the breeder may also examine parent plants with different characteristics. The plants are then married. “You get the offspring and select from those offspring the desired plant types for different agricultural production and environments,” Oduori says.

The exercise combines “conventional breeding with a mix of genetics and mark assisted selection where we use the DNA,” he says. “We explore the DNAs of different variants in species to come up with the right genetic combinations that meet the requirements for a given environment.”

For Kemunto, what went into the development of the seed that’s ideal for her environment may be too complicated for her to understand. All she desired was seed that could provide her with enough to sustain her family and possibly make some financial returns.

“Since I was advised on what to do, my proceeds are good,” she says.

The one kilogramme of seeds that she acquired for Sh100 consumed 10kg of fertiliser at a cost of Sh540. She spent about Sh1,400 on her labourers. “At harvest, I got four sacks which I sold for Sh8,000 each,” she says.

She realised nearly Sh30,000 in profits.


Posted on

November 2, 2020

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