Bumper harvest in North Rift while 23 counties starve

Eastern Africa Grain Council chief executive director, Gerald Masila.
Eastern Africa Grain Council chief executive director, Gerald Masila.

While 23 counties stare at drought, the North Rift recorded a bumper harvest this season.

Agriculture CS Willy Bett said this year's harvest is expected at 34 million bags from the long rains harvest. The country also anticipates another seven million bags for the short rains harvest.

This, Bett said, will help bring production at par with consumption levels, where maize consumption stands at 3.2 million bags per month, and 40 million bags annually.

In addition, harvesting at the Galana-Kulalu scheme is ongoing, with 70,000 bags of maize expected. The harvesting will take one and a half months.

On drought, Kilifi county has been categorised by the National Drought Management Authority in the alert phase, yet the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme is in the same county.

So while some parts of the country have a surplus of maize and farmers are struggling to find market, Kenyans elsewhere are starving. Besides Kilifi,

other counties hit by drought according to the authority include Garissa, Kajiado, Kilifi, Kitui, Kwale, Lamu, Makueni, Marsabit, Meru, Samburu, Tana River and Wajir.

Eastern Africa Grain Council CEO Gerald Masilu said it is sad that some farmers are stuck with tonnes of grains, while others are facing hunger. However,

he said it is not abnormal that some parts of Kenya will suffer famine while others have bumper harvests.

This is dictated by the agro-ecological zones of the different areas, he said. “We had El Niño

rains in the last season, and now we are suffering the prolonged drought situation that follows, known as La Niña,” Masila said.

He said many of those affected in 23 counties, mainly in the arid and semi-arid areas, did not harvest much this season, and do not have much food or grain available in storage, which is now a rare phenomena.

“You hardly see granaries in the rural areas these days, maybe because there is not much to store there, or for other reasons, such as insecurity. This is the root of the problem,” he said.

Increase in maize price

According to the grain council CEO, the families affected resort to buying the food from the open market, hence the prices at which the grains will be sold to the consumers will be high.

“When the price is too high, then the poor consumers will not afford, and so they will go hungry. On the other hand, the producers of maize in the maize-producing counties are petitioning the government to buy their grains at Sh3,000 per bag. While it is a good thing for farmers to get a good price for their maize, we also have to think about the consumer,” he said.

Masila said when the government buys maize for the strategic grain reserve at Sh3,000 per 90kg bag, this raises the price level in the market, since the government price becomes like a minimum price.

He explained that the government may not have the resources to buy all the grain and redistribute it to the market, including to all the drought-affected areas. This, Masila said, means that businesspeople, or the so called unscrupulous traders, have to do this function of moving grain from production to consumption and to buy either at the price set by government or higher.

“Besides, when the government buys the grain to store in the strategic reserve, it means that there is less grain available to circulate in the market. This pushes the price further, so by the time the maize reaches a consumer in Garissa, Mombasa or even Nairobi having been bought at Sh3,000 in Eldoret or Kitale, it will reach them at almost Sh4,000 a bag when you add transport, cess and other handling costs. This hurts the consumers, on one hand, and rewards inefficient high cost production, a practice that is not sustainable,” explains Masila.

He is however quick to state that the state has solutions to resolve the food security situation in the country and the wider Eastern Africa region.

First, by promoting efficient production of grains to be produced at the least cost possible, and reducing costs of inputs as well as improved agronomic practices.

“We have seen some farmers harvest 40 bags per acre, while the neighbour barely gets 15-20 bags. The one with a higher production has lower costs and this is the way to go,” he said.

Second, by promoting suitable and drought tolerant crops in the arid and semi-arid lands, like sorghum, beans etc.

The communities living in the arid and semi-arid lands need to produce crops best suited for the climatic and ecological conditions. Such crops would be short maturing crops that can do well with little rainfall and withstand drought. Examples are sorghum, millet, beans, pulses, soya and such like crops, not maize. Besides, the handling of these crops after harvest is the other key solution to reduce post-harvest losses.