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Long dry spell brings good tidings to few savvy Kenyan farmers

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- For the last three months, a dry spell has swept across Kenya leading to scarcity of water, food, and livestock pasture.

In both urban and rural Kenya, many citizens are grappling with the tough effects of the dry spell hoping that it ends soon.

However, as the majority lament, the dry spell has brought good tidings to savvy Kenyan farmers who are reaping big from their agribusinesses as food prices hit a new high.

Tomatoes, onions, potatoes and vegetables are among the fresh produce whose prices have risen significantly as supply dwindles following the dry spell.

A crate of tomatoes is currently being sold at between 5,000 shillings (50 U.S. dollars) and 70 dollars at different markets across the east African nation, up from an average of 30 dollars. The prices are higher in areas that least produce the crops like the Coast and western Kenya, where a 64kg crate of tomatoes is being sold at a new high of 70 dollars.

A survey on Saturday at Wakulima, the biggest wholesale fresh produce market in the capital Nairobi, indicated that the crate of tomatoes is going for an average of 55 dollars, with supermarkets selling a kilo of the vegetable at 0.90 dollars.

  Long dry spell brings good tidings to few savvy Kenyan farmers | Coastweek

A three months' dry spell has swept across Kenya leading to scarcity of water, food, and livestock pasture. PHOTO - KWS
Similarly, potatoes have become much scarcer including in regions that produce the tubers like Nyandarua, with a kilo of the produce currently retailing at as high as 2 dollars from 1 dollar in January.

The high prices have brought good fortunes to savvy farmers, especially those using irrigation and conservation farming technologies.

"I cannot complain about the dry spell," Joseph Gatitu, a tomato farmer in Machakos County, on the south of Nairobi, said on phone. "Demand for my produce is high that I cannot satisfy the market," he added.

The farmer grows the crop using drip irrigation system, sourcing water from the nearby River Athi.

"I grew my tomatoes towards the end of November last year.

"At that time, there were some little rains but I later started irrigating the crop in December and currently, I am on my second harvest getting at least 80 kilos a week," said Gatitu, who farms on half-acre.

He is selling a kilo of tomatoes to households in the nearby Kitengela and Athi River towns for up to 0.70 dollars, the highest price he has ever reaped in many years.

"Last year and the previous one, prices were not this better because the dry spell was not that long.

"In farming, good timing is very important," he said.

As a practice, during the rainy season he grows vegetables before switching to tomatoes when dry spell starts.

This enables him to avoid diseases associated with tomato growing during the rainy season.

Many farmers in the east African nation are also taking up conservation farming methods that involve minimal tilling of land and mulching to conserve soil moisture, which is good for crop growth especially during the dry season.

According to Hezekiah Korir of Egerton University, conservation agriculture largely entails minimum soil disturbance and soil moisture preservation.

The goal of the method, he notes, is to have a soil cover that protects the surface reducing moisture loss and weed growth.

This gives the crop good growing environment, especially during the dry spell.

"Certainly, those farmers who grow short season crops using irrigation or conservation farming methods are making a killing.

"I do consultancy at a farm in Ruiru and right now it is among the few supplying onions in the town and Nairobi, and this is because of conservation farming.

"Traders are flocking there daily," said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Agro-Point in Nairobi.

She noted that if the rains delay further, some farmers would make big gains because commodity prices would rise.


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