NAIROBI, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's mostly rain-fed agriculture sector is once again facing a major crisis as a dry spell cuts production of major crops.
Among the worst-hit are foreign exchange earners like coffee and tea, whose production has declined significantly following the six-month drought.
The east African nation's residents are still waiting for the long rains season to start, over a month after they were expected to have begun.
The Meteorological Department has blamed the delay on cyclone Idai, which devastated Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
For tea, multinationals located in the Rift Valley and central Kenya have been forced to send some of their workers on leave after production of the crop fell due to drought.
Most companies are now operating at half optimum, according to Kenya Tea Growers Association chief executive Apollo Kiarie.
The sector employs some 50,000 workers directly and indirectly, with the devastating effects of the drought set to be much severe if the rains do not come sooner.
Kenya is among the leading producers of black tea in the world, with the sector earning some 141 billion shillings (1.4 billion U.S. dollars) from a record 492.9 million kg in 2018.
In February, however, the Tea Directorate projected that production would decline this year to 416 million kg owing to the bad weather.
For coffee, the current drought worsens production drop, which has fallen over the years from 130 million tons annually to 40 million tons, Coffee Task Force data shows.
Production of potatoes has also been affected, with Kenya now faces a shortage of up to 1.5 million tons, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Both seeds and tuber potato production have been impacted as the bulk of the crop, which is the second staple after maize, is grown under rain in Kenyan highlands.
With rains having being scarce in October to December in 2018 and expected to be the same in the March-May season this year, Kenya is facing a major potato crisis.
"Most farmers who grew potatoes in the October to December season did not do very well," said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.
"This year's March to May season has already been disrupted which means most farmers may not farm for two seasons even if the rains come, which will hit production," she added.
Kenya produces an average of 1.5 million tons of potatoes annually, which earn farmers 460 million dollars, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, with 2015 having been the best year with an output of 1.9 million tons.
On the other hand, for livestock, animals, mainly kept in the rangelands in arid and semi-arid areas, are facing starvation due to lack of pasture.
Kenya's agriculture sector employs close to 10 million people and accounts for about 51 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), 26 percent directly and 25 percent indirectly, through its links to other sectors, according to the latest World Bank data.
Agriculture is also responsible for much of Kenya's exports, at 65 percent in 2017.
"The contribution of agriculture to real GDP growth has decreased from about 23.9 percent (2008-2012) to 21.9 percent (2013-2017) due to the impact of drought," the World Bank said in a report earlier this month.
Kenyans are already paying heavily for the weather shocks, with potato prices having doubled.
Some fear that Kenya's economic growth this year may fall short of the earlier forecast of 6 percent due to the prolonged dry spell.