Although the heavy rains pounding many areas of the country have wreaked havoc, they could turn into a blessing in drought-prone areas of Elgeyo Marakwet come harvest time.
Areas of the semi-arid Kerio Valley are expected to produce the highest maize, cassava and millet harvest, agriculture executive Shadrack yatich said.
The rains have caused destructive run-offs in several farms and destroyed crops. But Yatich said: “The entire Kerio Valley has enough food this year because of the heavy rains.” Kerio Valley is known for drought and constant banditry among herders due to scarcity of pasture and water. “Our agricultural extension officers have reported positive effects of the rain. It may be negative in some areas but overall, we are expecting high yields,” Yatich said.
The executive urged residents in Kerio escarpment not to encroach on areas listed as landslide-prone. “Our major fear is fall armyworms and not the rains. We are doing our best to combat the worms. Farmers have been told to immediately report any incident of fall armyworms,” he said.
Yatich said farming was banned in some areas on the steep hanging valley since the colonial days, but some farmers have often disobeyed the ban, leading to increased risks of landslides and rock falls.
He said farmers have been encouraged to grow coffee in the escarpment, which is characterised by loose soils and rocks, to conserve soils and prevent mudslides.
The county is working with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation to supply subsidised coffee seedlings to farmers in the escarpments to boost soil conservation, Yatich said.
POTATO FARMING ON THE RISE
Farmers in the Keiyo and Marakwet highlands have also recorded a bumper potato harvest, attracting middlemen who buy the produce in the farms.
In May, Governor Alex Tolgos issued a stern warning to unscrupulous traders, whom he accused of exploiting farmers by buying potatoes in 100kg bags instead of the recommended 50kg bags. He said they will be arrested by county enforcement officers.
Reports at the Agriculture department indicate that approximately 20,000ha of farms are under potatoes, leading to production of 300,000 metric tonnes of the crop annually.
Middlemen who violate the potato packaging law can be fined up to Sh500,000 or a one-year jail term or both. The law also controls packaging of 20 other agricultural produce, including legumes, cereals, roots and tubers.
Potato production is on the rise as a result of increasing demand and high profitability compared to other enterprises.
“Our farmers have scaled up production of potatoes in recent years. The potato-growing wards have doubled from seven to 14 since 2013. Production is predominantly done by smallholder farmers who need protection from these unscrupulous businessmen,” Tolgos said.
The governor said the county will protect farmers from middlemen, who he said have been buying potatoes at low prices only to enjoy high profits at the expense of farmers. He said county enforcement officers will be deployed to areas where the middlemen are currently pitching camp.
In September last year, middlemen bought a 100kg bag at as low as Sh300, sparking outrage among farmers.