Wheat: Why grain was heavily protected by colonial authorities

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Young boys thresh soybeans by hand in Ruasse.

Wheat growing began in the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent about 6,000 years ago. From there it spread to the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. The British introduced new varieties of wheat as soon as they established colonial rule in Kenya in 1895.

According to I.D Talbott, an agriculture historian, the crop “was thought by the administration to be an important road for developing the colony along the lines of Australia or Canada in which production of the grain, very much in demand in Britain for the working classes, would assure the prosperity of its European settlers”.

The first varieties of wheat grown during the first few years of British rule were gluyas, thew, bobs and Florence, all Australian hybrids.

Another breed – rietti – was later added. At first, the 1,200 acres grown by Lord Delamere did well. Later, these breeds developed rust which reduced the yield by more than half the earlier quantities.

It was through painstaking and careful breeding by the Department of Agriculture at Scotts Laboratories in Kabete and Njoro that more resistant varieties of wheat were developed.

These included Equator, marquis, golden boll, groot korn, Kenya governor and doop. Each of these breeds had strengths and weaknesses.

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