ECONOMY HIT

Kirinyaga farmers stuck with rice as Nairobi travel ban bites

Traders say they will be forced to send some of their workers home.

In Summary

• There are no travellers to Nairobi— the main customers for the rice farmers in Ngurubani.

• The town is located along the Nairobi – Embu –Meru highway. 

Rice milling factory in Ngurubani town
Rice milling factory in Ngurubani town
Image: WANGECHI WANG'ONDU
Rice traders selling their produce in one of the rice stores in Ngurubani town.
Rice traders selling their produce in one of the rice stores in Ngurubani town.
Image: WANGECHI WANG'ONDU

The lockdown of five counties, including Nairobi, due to rising Covid-19 cases has left rice farmers in Ngurubani town in Kirinyaga county counting losses. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the directive on March 26, banning movement into and out of the capital as well as Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru counties. He also revised curfew hours from 10pm to start at 8pm in the counties designated jointly as a disease zone. 

Following the directive, there are no travellers to Nairobi— the main customers for the rice farmers in Ngurubani. The town is located along the Nairobi – Embu –Meru highway. 

Rice trader Munene Kabihu told the Star that his sacks of rice have remained in the store since last week because there are no buyers.

Kabihu said if the trend persisted, he would be forced to send some of his workers home.

“Most of our customers hail from Nairobi. I heavily rely on motorists making their way to Meru from Nairobi and vice versa. Our Nairobi customers who order our rice in large quantities have not placed any,” he said. 

“There is no fall back plan for us and as a result, many are contemplating shutting down their businesses while others have already dismissed some of their workers.”

Kabihu said most businesses, especially supermarkets, hotels and guesthouses have laid off most workers. Only a few managers are left to take temporary charge of the businesses.

Trader Lilian Njeri used to make Sh5,000 a day from the sale of rice before the current lockdown. She hardly makes any money presently.

Njeri is not taking any new stock until she can clear what she has.

“We will feel relieved when the restriction of movement particularly to and from Nairobi will be lifted as many of our customers will start to shop with us,” she said.

Wambui Muchiri said rice farmers had been hard hit since the pandemic began and have had to sell cheaply to buyers. She said they feel betrayed by the government because it promised to buy their unmilled grain at Sh85 per kilo. It hasn't. 

“We have to find the market ourselves and sell both the original and the ratoon crop harvest at an average of Sh63 per kilo,” she said. 

“The production has also been difficult as we have grappled with rice diseases, snails, expensive farm inputs and labour. All those challenges have lowered the production of rice from the usual 25 bags per holding to 18 bags. The farmer also incurs losses caused by the cost of production and maintenance of the crop.”

Mary Mumbi said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused her the greatest losses since she began the business. 

“The price of rice has gone down drastically from Sh150 to Sh120 per kilo. I can go for a day or two without making any sale compared to the normal days where I used to sell between 50 to 120 kilos per day.”

Mumbi said the local hotels have also stopped buying from them as most are on the verge of closure.

“Ngurabani is strategically located along the Nairobi –Embu-Meru highway. Most of us rely on the motorist and passengers who over the years have played a big role in the transformation of the town,” she said. 

Mumbi said some traders might not even make enough money for the month’s rent should Nairobi continue being under lockdown.

The traders appealed to the government to lift the restrictions so that their business can get back on track.

They called on the government to streamline rice farming so that they can reap better profit from their farming.

 

(edited by o. owino)