Kenya: Farmers Count Losses As Crops Wilt Due to Delayed Rains

A farmer in Muringato, Nyeri County, discards maize stalks on April 15, 2019 following crop failure. Many other farmers are equally counting losses.

Mzee Paul Sichere Mukhanji, a farmer in Shitaho village in Kakamega County, is a distraught man.

Since he retired from the Department of Public Works 22 years ago, the 82-year-old has been eking out a living growing maize, beans and bananas on his four-acre parcel of land.

He needs money to pay the medical bills for his bedridden wife, who is battling complications from diabetes and high blood pressure.

This year, the weather has complicated his predicament. The delayed rains have scuttled his plans to plant early and look forward to a bumper maize harvest.

He is one of the millions of farmers across the country who keep looking at the sky for answers, wondering when the rain will come, but get only a blank response from the azure skies.

DROUGHT

The Nation spoke with farmers in Nyeri, Meru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia and Tharaka-Nithi, areas largely known for their agricultural productivity, and it was the same story of despair as their crops wilted under the scorching heat.

In Kakamega, Mzee Mukhanji's weary face told of the anxiety and frustrations he was undergoing after the dry spell set in just when farmers in the region were set for the planting season.

"I planted maize and beans on my farm two weeks ago, hoping the rains would come, but that has not happened. The year has been tough and it looks like we could have a failed harvest," he said.

There is no end in sight to his troubles, with the meteorological department and government officials predicting tough times ahead, especially for maize, the staple food crop.

Kenya produces 40 million bags of maize a year, against an annual consumption of 52 million.

The deficit is normally met through imports from East and Southern Africa, but the regions have also been affected by drought.

ALTERNATIVE CROPS

Kenya Meteorological Department acting Deputy Director Bernard Chanzu asked farmers to "seek alternative means of survival" since the rains will be insufficient.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri also asked farmers to go for fast-maturing crops to mitigate the effects of the drought.

In Kieni, Nyeri County, farmers hard hit by the drought said they had hoped that this year's harvest would help them recover from the previous failed seasons.

Nyeri County has experienced total crop failure for four seasons due to erratic weather.

But that did not deter them from trying again. Ms Mary Mwangi, for instance, said she planted maize in readiness for the long rains. "They have wilted because of the scorching sun," she lamented.

Last week, the county received heavy rain for half a day, giving the farmers hope. "The rain cheated us. We went back to plant, but it has stopped and we have no food. And the price of everything has shot up," Ms Mwangi said.

FAILED HARVEST

In Meru County, farmers who had planted expecting the long rains to start on March 15 are counting their losses.

Mr Japhet Mwongera, a farmer in Imenti North, said he had planted maize and beans and spent over Sh10,000 preparing his farm, yet the seeds did not germinate.

Mr Silas Mugendi, a farmer in Mitheru village in Tharaka-Nithi County, planted after a recent downpour, but his crops have since dried up.

"I thought it was the appropriate time to plant after it rained heavily, but I didn't know that it would last only a day," he said.

In the North Rift, maize farmers are counting their losses after most of the their seeds failed to germinate. Most of the farmers have been forced to plant afresh.

Mr Peter Kutit, a large-scale seed grower, said that half of his 400 acres of seed maize had been destroyed by the drought.

REPLANTING

He noted that the weather reports keep changing, and that farmers are not sure of getting enough rain this year.

"The cost of production has gone up by 100 per cent because we have to replant. We had prepared the land using expensive fertiliser. Unfortunately, the rains have not come and a lot of crops have not germinated," Mr Kutit said at his farm in Birunda,

Mr William Koros from Endebess, Trans-Nzoia County, projected that maize production will be almost nil this year since most farmers did poorly in the early March to May planting season.

"A farmer who planted at that particular time has registered total failure. And because of the prices the government was offering maize farmers last year, most of them sold their produce at throwaway prices of between Sh1,000 and Sh1,600 per bag," he said.

By Benson Amadala, Pauline Kairu, Barnabas Bii, Leopold Obi, Irene Mugo, Stanley Kimuge, Gitonga Marete, Nyambega Gisesa, Alex Njeru and Gerald Bwisa

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