15 November 2012

Kenya: Rice Farmers Lose Harvest to Floods

Kisumu — Flash floods have washed away the rice harvest of some 2,000 farmers in western Kenya, flooding some of their homes and sending latrine effluent into water courses, according to officials and residents.

"We are estimating that some 2,000 farmers have lost their crops due to the raging floods. Much of this crop had been harvested and was still in the farms being dried," said James Samo, agricultural specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The affected farmers live in the 870-hectare Kano Plains rice irrigation scheme in Kisumu District.

"Heavy rains are wreaking havoc here and our only source of livelihood, rice, is threatened. The floods have washed [it all away] and are threatening to displace us. I only managed to salvage a few bags of rice when the water subsided," Leonard Onyango, a rice farmer, told IRIN.

Onyango said he had lost over 10 50kg bags of rice, but fears he might lose the few he managed to salvage if the rains continue.

In October, the Metrological Department issued an alert over possible flash floods in parts of the country following the start of the country's October-to-December short rains, which it said, may be exacerbated by possible mild-to-moderate El Niño conditions.

Rice millers in the region told IRIN they are already facing shortages as a result of the heavy rains which have also hampered access to farms.

"Our mill has run out of rice due to rains. We can no longer meet our market demand," Geoffrey Wekesa, an agricultural expert from Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA), said.

Heavy rains are wreaking havoc here and our only source of livelihood, rice, is threatened. The floods have washed [it all away] and are threatening to displace us. I only managed to salvage a few bags of rice when the water subsided.

Rice is Kenya's third staple, after maize and wheat. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, domestic production of rice stands at 50,000 tons per year, while annual consumption is 350,000 tons. Pakistan alone exports 200,000 tons of rice to Kenya annually.

Health threat

Residents said the floods had not only swept away their crops and farms, but also pit latrines which could lead to an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

"Our pit latrines have been washed away and they are being driven into the water sources. We continue using this water but I know people will get sick after some time," Leonard Kwama, a youth leader said.

Kwama faulted the accuracy of past flood warnings. "At times past flood warnings pass without any of these occurrences and farmers begin to doubt and are reluctant to heed them," he said.

Government officials said they had put in place plans to train farmers on flood mitigation and management.

"We have set in motion plans to ensure that farmers are trained on how to mitigate effects of floods by giving them skills on how to build flood-proof storage facilities. Many farmers keep their harvest in the house and when floods occur, they lose it all. We will train them on how to build raised storage structures," Reuben Dienya from the Ministry of Environment, said.

Earlier attempts by the government to build oxbows and canals to ease future flooding were abandoned after locals demanded compensation since the structures were to be built on their farms.

In April and May this year, several parts of Western and Nyanza regions experienced flooding leaving more than 15,000 people displaced.

Evacuation centres built in the area this year with the help of the Japanese government can only accommodate 12,000 people.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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