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Looming food crisis as maize withers in main growing zone

Leonard Kimutai (right), a farmer, shows Dr Cyril Cheruiyot, the Uasin Gishu County Agriculture executive, his withering maize crop. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG
Leonard Kimutai (right), a farmer, shows Dr Cyril Cheruiyot, the Uasin Gishu County Agriculture executive, his withering maize crop. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG 

Kenya is headed for a major food crisis if the dry spell ravaging parts of the North Rift persists with more than 40,000 acres of the maize crop in Uasin Gishu County alone withering.

This translates to a loss of about 800,000 bags of maize with some areas like Moiben experiencing the last downpour in May this year.

A spot check in the region revealed that many farms were experiencing total crop failure with Karuna/Meibeki, Sergoit, and Kuinet/Kapsuswo locations in Moiben sub-county being the worst hit.

When the Business Daily toured some of the affected farms early this week farmers were yet to come to terms with the calamity.

We found Leonard Kimutai, a farmer from Kapsubere, in a contemplative mood after his entire crop on a five-acre farm withered.

“I was expecting to harvest 120 bags but I doubt if I will manage two. I have been depending on farming to educate my children. I don’t know where I will get money next year,” said the dejected farmer.

Hosea Suter, another farmer, was pondering what to do next after watching maize on his 12-acre farm dry up. He was expecting to harvest more than 400 bags which would have fetched him about Sh1.2 million.

“I don’t know how I will offset bank loans. We call on the government to assist us to rebuild our lives,” said Mr Suter.

According to the farmers, the last time it rained in the area was May 18. Uasin County Agriculture executive Cyril Cheruiyot said that tussling maize was the worst hit.

“We are still monitoring the situation. If it does not rain in the next one week we will have no option but to advice farmers to cut their crop and use them as animal feed,” said Dr Cheruiyot.

“The last time a drought of this magnitude was experienced in this region was in 1984,” he said.

Dr Cheruiyot said that many farmers had opted for maize because the returns are higher compared to wheat.

“We advise our farmers to embrace crop insurance to mitigate against effects of climate change. Though this is a localised affair, we call for the national government to intervene,” said the county executive.

He said that the county harvested 4.2 million bags of maize last year from 90,000 acres, adding that the yield will drop this year due to erratic rainfall and the fall armyworm invasion.

With 40,000 acres of the crop already withering due to drought and another 25,000 destroyed by the worms, the county stands to lose about 65,000 acres of the crop translating to a shortfall of 1.3 million bags, painting a bleak future of the country’s food security.

In 2015, farmers in the North Rift lost more than 260,000 acres of maize valued at Sh2 billion due to invasion by the Maize Lethal Negrosis (MLN) virus.

Last year, maize production in the region dropped from 21 million bags to 16 million but this is set to worsen if the armyworm invasion and drought menace persist.

The Agriculture ministry forecasts maize harvest in the country to fall 20 per cent short of the projected 40 million 90kg bags this year.

The price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour doubled to Sh150 in April from a similar period last year, prompting the government to launch a Sh6 billion subsidy programme which lowered the cost to Sh90.

Farmers who spoke to the Business Daily said that the high cost of inputs and fuel hurt the sector.

During the planting season farmers were paying Sh2,500 for ploughing an acre, up from Sh1,800 last year, while harrowing cost Sh2,000 up from Sh1,500.

Farmer Jonah Rotich, who ploughs 20 acres at Kaplelach in Uasin Gishu County, said farming has become very expensive.

“Farming is no longer profitable due to the high cost of production, we are realising low returns,” said Mr Rotich.

The farmers want the price of a 90kg bag of maize sold at Sh3,500 up from the current Sh3,000 for farming to be a viable venture.



The price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour doubled to Sh150 in April from a similar period last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour doubled to Sh150 in April from a similar period last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The country requires about 650,000 tonnes of fertiliser yearly but some farmers don’t use the nutrients because they cant afford them.

The government-subsidised fertiliser, distributed through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), goes for Sh1,800 per 50kg bag. Retailers sell the same at Sh3,000.

Farmers expressed disappointment over uncoordinated importation and distribution of fertiliser, saying that the government was short-changing them.

“We don’t understand why the government always makes a last minute dash to import fertiliser resulting in some farmers planting without the nutrients and registering low yields,” said Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) Uasin Gishu County director Kipkorir Menjo.

The farmers said yields in the region dropped drastically last season, which they attributed to substandard fertilisers.

James Rogony, a farmer from Ziwa, said that substandard fertiliser caused strange colourisation of crops and poor yields.

However, the government denied that subsidised fertiliser was responsible for the low harvest.

“A technical team of soil and crop experts from Kephis and Kebs conducted analysis on the soil, crop and fertiliser samples which showed that the fertiliser was above acceptable standards,” said Richard Lesiyampe, the Agriculture Principal Secretary, during a tour of the region last year.

“The analysis confirmed that the government subsided fertiliser was within scientific requirements and was not adulterated,” he added.

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