Feature: Erratic rains, pests deny Kenya maize farmers harvest

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-25 02:22:43|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Bedah Mengo

NAIROBI, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- After planting their maize crop some seven months ago and hoping to harvest around this time, tens of Kenyan farmers are waking up to the reality that they may not get anything.

Diseases, pests and erratic rains have conspired to deny East African nation farmers harvest from the staple consumed by millions of residents.

The diseases include head smut and the pests are mainly fall armyworms that invaded thousands of acres in the food basket regions of the Rift Valley and western.

The armyworms have since spread to other parts of the country including in Nyanza, Central and at the Coast.

Rift Valley accounts for up to 60 percent of Kenya's maize produce while Nyanza and Western have a 25-percent share.

Farmers in the East African nation, especially in the bread basket regions, normally start to harvest towards end of this month after planting in February and March.

But this season, many grappled with low harvest while others may not harvest anything at all.

"This is the worst season I have ever experienced as a maize farmer. It has never been like this ever in the close to 20 years I have grown maize," Simon Ambuche, maize farmer in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, said Thursday.

Ambuche grew maize on 10 acres but the crop has performed poorly that instead of the at least 80 bags of maize he normally harvests, the farmer would be lucky to end up with 10 bags from the whole venture.

Most of his crop is currently blackened by head smut disease and it is stunted with nearly half having not yet tasselled, seven months later.

"I do not think it will tassel which means I have no maize yields. Someone even suggested that I cut it and sell to dairy farmers to minimise my losses," he said.

As many other farmers in the region, Ambuche spent the better part of this season battling armyworms. The pests have invaded over 100,000 acres of maize crop in the county, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

"I spent some 400 U.S. dollars fighting the pest and hoped that things would be better. The pest seemed to have disappeared and I was happy but not the crop is affected by head smut. It is painful," he said.

The farmer, as many others in the region, had to contend with depressed rains, armyworms and now head smut, which attacks maize at the tasselling stage.

Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture announced invasion of fall armyworms in the country in April, and supplied farmers with chemicals to fight the pest but the battle has achieved mixed fortunes.

"It has been a bad season for farmers across Kenya. From my 25 acres, I would be lucky to harvest five 90kg bags of maize," said Bernard Njuguna, a farmer in Rongai in Nakuru.

Njuguna blamed his plight on erratic rains that started late in April and ended early June.

"I planted early March in anticipation that the rains would be adequate but this did not happen. The plants flowered early and the rains disappeared. I did not even apply CAN because the fertiliser would have burnt the crop," he said, noting his maize is now stunted to a metre high.

Kenya consumes up to 4 million bags of maize every month, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, with the country production peaking at 40 million bags in best seasons, while the rest is imported.

The ministry estimated that maize production would drop by 12 percent this season or 4.3 million bags due to delayed rains and armyworm attack.

The harvests this season, according to the ministry would fall to 33 million bags, down from 37.1 million last year.

"Poor crop performance is expected to continue over most parts of southeastern Kenya, the situation is, however, likely to improve in the agriculturally high-potential areas of Kitale, Eldoret, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii and Nandi Hills areas," said the ministry in a recent report.

However, while these were the projections over a month ago, the situation has changed on the ground as farmers like Ambuche stare at huge losses amid high production costs.

"The situation on the farms is bad this time round. A good number of farmers would not harvest anything. I visited a farmer last week whose five acres were ravaged by armyworms and advised him to cut the crop and sell to dairy farmers," said Bernard Moina, an agricultural extension officer in Kitale, a breadbasket region.

He noted that the country would continue to rely on imports for the coming months due to poor harvest.