Kenyan farmers feel pain of unpredictable rains

Source Xhinua

Some crops in Kenya have been washed away while others have been submerged by floods as harvest rots on farms in some parts of the east African nation following heavy rains.

The rains have been unpredictable and unusually heavy and the Kenyan farmers are feeling every pinch of it.

When the short rains season started early October, most farmers rushed to plant maize, beans, tomatoes and vegetables, among other crops.

As has been in the past, the rains were expected to be heavy in October and reduce in intensity as time goes by to allow crops to flourish.

But the opposite is happening as the east African nation grapples with the effects of climate change.

From central to western, coastal and the usually dry North, farmers are counting losses as rains pound the regions.

The Kenya Meteorological Department has predicted that the intensity of the rains would continue in December, with some areas expected to receive as high as 50mm of downpour in a day.

Samson Otieno, a farmer in Siaya, is among those counting losses following heavy rains.

He woke up on Friday to find his maize and that of his neighbors washed away by floods after a night of heavy rains.
A number of his trees and others in the neighborhood had also fallen following the deluge.

“All the 7,000 shillings (70 U.S. dollars) that I invested on the one-acre farm is now gone. I don’t think I will plant again,” said Otieno on phone on Saturday.

In Kajiado, south of Nairobi, tomato and onion farmers are watching as their produce rot on farms due to impassable roads.

The area, in particular Loitoktok on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, is one of the largest producers of the two crops, with the harvest mainly sold in the capital Nairobi.

But the heavy rains coupled with poor roads are making farmers pay a heavy price.

“I had planted my tomatoes under irrigation hoping to cash in on rising prices about this time but the rains have come unannounced and they are threatening my investment,” said Zablon Kioko.

Normally, Kioki goes with his saloon car to the leased farm, collects the produce and sells in neighboring suburbs.

He has done it comfortably for the last two years but this time around, the rains have changed the plot.

With the rains also comes many crop diseases and pests that include bacterial wilt, blight and thrips. The diseases spread faster due to surface runoff, increasing the cost of production for farmers.

Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Growth Point, noted that while Kenya’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed, heavy rains compound problems for farmers.

“Most farmers, especially those growing onions and crops like watermelons normally need a period of dry weather for the crops to cure and mature well. December has been that period, but with the heavy rains, this will certainly not be possible,” she said.

She explained that onions must have at least two weeks of dry period for the bulbs to cure for them to have longer shelf-life.

“But with the rains, the crops even if harvested will start to rot or sprout. For watermelons, they need about a month of dry weather before harvesting for them to be sweater. The rains are interfering with quality,” she noted.

Greenhouse farmers have not been spared either as some of their structures have been destroyed by the rains.

At least 60 people have been killed due to the floods and mudslides and properties worth millions of shillings destroyed, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. More than 18,000 have been displaced across Kenya, said the agency.