By Gerald Andae
Farmers in the breadbasket of North Rift have been urged to grow wheat, barley and fodder this season following failed rains that have derailed the March planting season amid the worst drought in 38 years.
Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Andrew Tuimur said any farmer who will plant maize when the rains eventually come will incur losses.
If growers heed to the call, this will see the region, which accounts for over 60 percent of Kenya’s maize production, cut yields this year from the 40 million bags reported the previous season.
It will consequently set the stage for reduced farmers earnings and a rally in flour prices that will hurt home budgets and put pressure on inflation.
Planting season in the North Rift normally starts in March and ends at the beginning of April.
“Farmers have to look for other alternatives such as wheat and fodder now as planting season ends in April and any grower who would be attempted to plant maize will lose more than half of their crop,” said Dr Tuimur. Late crop is susceptible to pests and diseases and will fall short of the expected yield, he explained.
Kenya faces the worst dry weather in 38 years, according to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).
The so-called long rains season from March till May hasn’t started in most parts of the country. Agriculture accounts for close to a third of Kenya’s annual economic output or GDP.
The dry weather is likely to curb its economic growth this year, the World Bank said, cutting its forecast to 5.7 percent growth. The local economy expanded by an estimated 5.8 percent last year.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mwangi Kiunjuri had last week advised farmers to grow short-term crops following the delayed rains.
However, concerns have been raised over the ability of farmers to switch to alternative crops given that most of them had already purchased farm input for this season and they might not have more money to incur on alternatives.
The CS urged county governments to intervene and help farmers with purchasing of inputs to enable them go back to the farms.
Last week, Igad said even if it rains, farmers will not make any meaningful return from their farms because the planting season is already over.
“We should not be talking of whether it will rain or not because even if it rains now, the planting season has already passed and we should focus on dealing with the situation at hand,” said Igad executive secretary Mahboub Maalim.
Acting Deputy Director of Kenya Meteorological Department Bernard Chanzu said last week that Kenyans should not expect the long rains.
He called on Kenyans to brace themselves for scarcity of water for drinking, sanitation and industrial use as well as for power generation.