Development partners and the government have started campaigns to encourage Kenyans to consume more indigenous foods as a measure of cutting overreliance on maize and reduce the import bill.

Robert Mwadime, Chief of Party for the Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems (KCDMS), a USAID-funded project, said there is need to increase the consumption and production of these foods that are now referred to as orphaned crops.

Dr Mwadime pointed out that it is time the country stopped depending on maize, wheat and Irish potatoes as the major staples but rather embrace sorghum, millet, cassava and sweet potato.

In the wake of climate change, Dr Mwadime said indigenous crops can play a major role in terms of food security given that most of them do well even in drought conditions.

“Owing to the changing global trends and the need to reduce food import bills and emerging diseases, Kenyans have to agree to diversify to improved indigenous food,” said Dr Mwadime.

He said in the coming years, there is a likelihood of a decline in the production of maize owing to the current trends, underpinning the need for the adoption and embracing of indigenous foods.

USAID has organised a two-day national dialogue meeting next week that brings stakeholders in the agriculture industry to discuss ways of increasing the consumption of affordable and safe indigenous foods for healthier diets in the country.

KCDMS chief of party Dr Mwadime. Photo (BDA).
KCDMS chief of party Dr Robert Mwadime. Photo (BDA).

The agenda of the meeting under the theme “Indigenous Foods for Health and Wealth” will revolve around enhancing, promoting and mobilising private sector involvement in nutritious indigenous foods in the country.

Dr Mwadime hailed the government’s planned blending of wheat and maize flour, with indigenous crops starting in November, saying it was a step in the right direction.

The Agri-food nutritionist with the Ministry of Agriculture Mary Njeri said the government has initiated a nationwide blending programme, saying the private sector will play a key role in promoting indigenous food.

She said in the upcoming national dialogue, stakeholders will discuss transformation for food security and climate resilience and raise awareness of indigenous foods and their contribution to healthy diets.

Kenya incurred a huge import bill for the importation of maize this year following a shortage that pushed up the cost of flour.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows the country’s import bill on food reached Ksh183.93 billion in 2022 as compared to Ksh155.42 billion a year earlier.