12 November 2017

Kenya: After Biting Drought, Rain Now Wreaking Havoc on Maize Crop

Over the recent past, drought has been the bane of maize growers in the country. Rain has been hard to come by and, when it arrived, the volumes were way below the required amount for a healthy crop.

Therefore, when the current rainy season kicked in, one would have thought that farmers would welcome it with open arms. Surprisingly, farmers are not smiling.

Heavy and protracted rains are now not a blessing. Rather, they are one of the reasons Kenya is staring at a maize deficit next year following post-harvest losses.

Ideally, the rains would have subsided and harvest would have began in various parts of the country from mid-October to late January but the rains have caused agony to grain growers.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett this week estimated post-harvest losses at 20 per cent of the total projected harvest, which means the country is likely to import the grains to plug the deficit.

"The government will meet the costs of drying maize. But this applies only to those who deliver their produce to the board and not those who take their produce to get that service and then take back their grains. At the moment, we are receiving small quantities of grains due to the rains. We encourage farmers to take advantage of the rains and re-plant the crop," added CS Bett. He directed the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to waive drying fees to cushion farmers against further losses.

The CS made the remarks during an event to mark World Food Day in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County. The theme of the event was: "Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development. It was attended by Kenya's Food and Agriculture Organisation representative Gabriel Rugalema and county Governor Jackson Mandago.

Some farmers like Charles Boit, from the North Rift region, have started re-planting maize to help him recover lost harvests due to the rains.

"This season has been really difficult for many farmers. From drought to the fall armyworm and now incessant rains. I estimate losses of between 15 per cent and 20 per cent due to the rains. I have replanted 50 acres of the crop for silage making... The challenge is that the armyworm has now re-surfaced and is attacking the crop, which was not the case before," noted the farmer from in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County.

According to the 2017 Economic Survey, Kenya produced 37.1 million 90kg bags of maize in 2016 and had projected 40 million bags this season as farmers increased the acreage under the crop due to better prices offered by the government.

This year, a combination of severe drought, fall armyworm invasion and prolonged rains are expected to reduce the projected harvest.

A spot check at various NCPB stores showed that few farmers had lined up to deliver their produce. The board had earlier said the produce had moisture content of up to 20 per cent but they are only allowing consignments with 18 per cent and below, which has to be dried before being taken to the silo.

The cereals board usually purchases grains that have moisture content of 13.5oC or below.

CS Bett said this week that the government is looking into long-term strategies to address the situation, including wooing investors to put up mobile dryers.

Grain growers last week appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to waive the charges levied on their produce.

Recently, the government said it had increased maize prices to Sh3,200 per 90kg bag, up from Sh3,000.

The government will spend Sh7.1 billion on the exercise to buy 2.4 million bags of maize from farmers to replenish stocks in the strategic reserves this year.

Mr Bett told farmers to remain vigilant and follow the advice provided by technical experts to counter any armyworm invasion.

"I also urge county governments to strengthen monitoring and surveillance systems for early detection and action on emerging pests and diseases. Experts have advised that the pest is still with us, hence the need to remain alert and enhance the various mitigation measures," he said.

He added that to combat this menace, the government had provided Sh300 million to support countrywide control programmes.

"The government is committed to support and coordinate all efforts that will ensure the threat posed by this pest is controlled, said Mr Bett."

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