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Maize farmers see low yields due to pests and erratic rains

An armyworm infested maize crop. FILE PHOTO | NMG
An armyworm infested maize crop. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Rift Valley farmers have expressed fear of low harvests as an outbreak of fall armyworms and erratic rains take their toll on maize production.

The pesticides the Ministry of Agriculture has recommended are expensive with the cheapest costing Sh20,000 a litre, an amount to spray one acre, they lamented.

“The infestation of the pest in maize plantations signals a tough economic season for farmers since we did not anticipate it in our budgeting,” said Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff) Trans Nzoia Chairman William Kimosong.

“This spells doom for us when coupled with the high cost of farm inputs, the drought in some parts of the region and the unstable maize market,” Andrew Rotich, a farmer from Cherangany, said.

The repeated outbreak of maize lethal necrosis (MLN) — which damaged over 260,000 hectares of maize valued at Sh2 billion last season — the high cost of farm inputs and market instabilities also worry farmers.

Some have diversified to other crops to cushion them against losses. Some farmer are switching to sugarcane, sorghum, millet and potatoes for domestic consumption.

Some maize farmers in areas like Soy, Turbo, Ziwa, Moiben in Uasin Gishu County and parts of Nandi County who were hard hit by supply of low quality planting fertiliser this season have switched to millet, beans and vegetables.

According to an agriculture report released in May, the output of sugarcane to factories in the Rift Valley rose from 1,041,780 tonnes the previous season to 1,644,395 tonnes last season.

Some maize farmers have switched to growing orphaned crops following a partnership between the European Union and the Agriculture ministry to promote drought resistance crops.

The EU has donated Sh500 million to the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (Kari) for research to improve productivity and reduce disease in crops, livestock and poultry for the next four years.

“We are partnering with Kenyan organisations and government to build the research backbone to increase food supply and production. Research and innovation in the science of agriculture can save lives and money, and make a real difference to the lives of those trying to live in dry areas,” said Erik Habers, Head of Development at the EU.