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Farmers in Kenya count losses as rains
disrupt transport and bring diseases

By Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of farmers across Kenya are counting losses as heavy rains render roads impassable, making it difficult for them to sell their produce.

The farmers are mainly those growing fresh produce like potatoes, maize, fruits like mangoes, tomatoes, vegetables and keeping livestock that includes dairy cows.

Most farming in the East African nation takes place in the rural areas where majority of the roads are not tarmacked.

Therefore, whenever it rains heavily as it is happening now, the roads get muddy and become impassable for vehicles, carts and even animals that are used to transport farm produce.

A majority of farmers are currently stuck with their produce on the farm, with most of it like tomatoes and fruits rotting.

The worst-hit areas are those in western Kenya and in breadbasket regions of the Rift Valley, where the main economic activity is farming.

Simon Kibowen, a potato farmer in Kuresoi in Nakuru, is one among the hundreds of farmers wishing the ongoing rains would cease, albeit for a few days.

“I have bags of potatoes in my house and another produce is rotting on the farm because buyers cannot reach me,” he said Wednesday.

Kibowen’s farm is located in the interior of the agriculturally rich region and all the roads, as in many other rural areas, are covered in black cotton soil.

“Normally traders come with lorries to my farm to buy the produce but right now the vehicles are 20 km away at the trading centre. If I want to sell to them, I must ferry the produce there,” he said.

“In the last two weeks I have been able to sell two bags of potatoes weighing 110 kg each at 12 U.S. dollars each after I hired a donkey and ferried the produce to the centre. But despite all the hustle, I only made 3 dollars profit. It was not worth it,” he said, noting that he has about 40 bags left.

Prices of the produce have declined to a low of 1,000 dollars per bag as traders buy from desperate farmers seeking to avoid losses.

In Elgeyo Marakwet, a region where people cultivate oranges and mangoes, farmers are hugely frustrated as their produce rots due to bad roads.

As in other parts of rural Kenya, the roads leading to farms in the remote area have become impassable, with vehicles ferrying farm produce getting stuck in the mud.

“This is usually the time most farmers start harvesting their mangoes but they cannot reach the market that include Nairobi. Several lorries that had come to ferry the produce to Nairobi are stuck in the region,” said Grace Najamo, a teacher in the area, who also farms tomatoes.

Najamo noted that mangoes are now going for as low as 0.01 dollars as farmers have no market. In Nairobi, the mangoes would fetch about 0.08 dollars each.

According to the Meteorological Department, much of Kenya is experiencing enhanced rainfall driven by warmer than average Sea Surface Temperatures over the western Equatorial Indian Ocean adjacent to the East African coastline.

In the last few days, the department noted in its latest forecast that most parts of the country continue to receive rainfall with significant amounts mainly being reported in the breadbasket area of the Rift Valley.

The total amount of rainfall registered in most parts of the country is between 50 and 100 ml, which is above normal.

However, besides impassable roads, the rains have come with pests, diseases and death, messing up farmers. Livestock farmers, according to the Kenya Red Cross, have lost up to 5,000 head of cattle due to rains.

For those growing crops, pests and diseases have risen due to the change of weather. Among the worst affected crops are tomatoes.

“I have lost about half-acre of tomatoes to blight due to the ongoing rains. I would spray chemicals and the rains would wash it away making it difficult to control the cold season disease,” said Mathews Ngari, a farmer in Kitengela, Kajiado.

Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in Kitale, western Kenya, noted that many farmers yearn for rains so that they can grow crops or pasture but they bring a myriad of challenges.

“Rains are a source of many diseases and pests as the surface runoff carries them from one place to another. For instance, during the rainy season, bacterial wilt disease that affects potatoes, capsicum and tomatoes, among other crops, becomes prevalent because water carries it from one farm to another,” he said.

Moina noted that farmers are losing their produce due to poor roads because they have no cold chain facilities.

             

 

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