SHIFT TO PASTURE OR WHEAT

Farmers face 'terrible' year after failed rains

'We've had scenario where government says it's prepared — and then rushes to import maize. This needs to changeGovernment needs to get moving

In Summary

• Government told to negotiate with seed companies to reduce the cost for farmers to replant. 

• Farmers urged to only plant crops that mature fast in three months.

A maize farm at Kiplombe near Eldoret where the crop failed due to rain shortage
A maize farm at Kiplombe near Eldoret where the crop failed due to rain shortage
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI

A food security expert has urged the government to negotiate with seed companies to reduce the price of maize seeds so farmers can replant.

The long rains have failed and any rains will be inadequate, the weatherman has said.

Agriculture CAS Andrew Tuimur said on April 16 there will be wilting and poor germination for the farmers who did dry planting in hopes of good rains.

“Even if the rains come in May, any maize planted from now on will have a drastic yield reduction. Farmers are likely to shift to pasture or wheat because they does not require a lot of rain,” he said.

More than 40 million bags of maize are usually expected after the long rains.

Not this season.

Timothy Njagi, a researcher at the Tegemeo Institute. said despite the little rain experienced in some parts of the country, farmers will need to replant.

“What we are not sure of is how many farmers will have the resources to replant, as many of them have already exhausted what they had to buy seeds and fertliser,” he said.

Njagi said apart from those farmers that are using irrigation, few farmers have the capital to replant.

“These are some of the things that the government should look into and ensure that farmers have enough seeds,” Njagi said.

He said 2019 is going to be a bad year for maize farmers if the government does not take immediate action.

The effects of the poor long rains, he said, will be felt from July when the country expects the first maize harvest from Narok county.

Some of the major maize-growing counties are Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Narok, Bungoma and Kakamega.

The first harvest for the long rains season starts in Narok from July to August, followed by Bungoma and Kakamega in from August to September and  Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu in from October to November.

“We are likely to start seeing the effects on maize from July. We knew that drought or not, farmers were already reducing the area under maize cultivation," Njagi said.

He said they were forced to do so because of poor prices and lack of capital following delayed payments from the National Cereals and Produce Board.

xx“Unless the weather predictions change, this is going to be a terrible year. The country relies on the harvest for this long rain season, and lack of rains will hurt, "  Njagi said.

He said farmers should be given an advisory to only replant maize varieties that mature in three months, not the usual five months.

The researcher also said the government should start planning early in sourcing maize to be used between June and December when the current stocks have been depleted.

“We have already seen a scenario in which the government says it is prepared — and then it rushes to import maize. This needs to change,” he said.

In June 2017, the country was hit by a maize shortage and government rushed to import maize to cushion consumers against the high cost of maize flour which had skyrocketed to Sh150 for a 2kg packet.

Njagi said the drought has also hit Uganda, Malawi and Zambia from which Kenyan commonly imports maize to fill the deficit.

“This means we are likely to get maize from outside the COMESA region and hence negotiations for import waivers should start early," he said.

Secondly, given that Kenya has a ban on GMO, it needs to find a country that does not grow GM maize.

"This will ensure we do not rush to import maize at the last minute and avoid panic amongst consumers. But if we wait until June to start looking for maize, we will be in emergency mode,” Njagi said.