El Nino rains: Dire forecast for farmers

Aman jumps over a section of the broken dyke at Kabuto village in Nyatike on April 6, 2023. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

As the dark clouds gather above David Ndhiwa’s rice farm, in West Kano, Kisumu, the weight of uncertainty hangs heavily in the air. He stands, surveying the vast expanse of once flourishing fields, now submerged in water.

With the meteorological department's recent prediction of prolonged and heavy rains, Ndhiwa finds himself on the brink of despair, unsure if he will be able to recover from the devastating losses or even plant for the next season.

"I invested everything I had into this season's crop," he whispers. "Now it's all lost, and I don't know if I can bear the weight of this setback."

Last week the Kenya Meteorological Department issued a warning that the country may experience El Niño conditions from May to August 2023. The department stated that the current rains are expected to intensify during the months of May to July. 

In a climate outlook, Dr David Gikungu director of Kenya meteorological services indicated a 60 per cent chance for the onset of El Niño between May and July 2023. This probability is anticipated to increase to 60-70 per cent during June and August, making it highly likely.

The prediction brings forth a wave of uncertainty and challenges for farmers already struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change.

The Standard established profound difficulties faced by these farmers for instance about 1,600 Hectares of farmland in west Kano are already flooded and farmers are looking at massive losses amounting to millions of shillings due to ongoing flash floods in the region.

The predicted long rains are poised to ravage farms, exacerbating the already dire situation.

According to Prof Raphael Kapiyo, an environmental scientist at Maseno University, floodwaters threaten to erode the fertile soil, washing away vital nutrients painstakingly built up over the years.

“Disease and pests loom as ever-present dangers, the bird in the farms threaten the production in the rice fields,” Kapiyo said.

With each passing moment, Ndhiwa’s dream of bountiful harvest slips further away, leaving him grappling with the harsh reality of an uncertain future.

For Mary Anyango another rice farmer, the consequences extend beyond the loss of income. With her major revenue source crippled, she now faces the daunting challenge of putting food on the table for her family.

The prospect of depending on domestic crops, once supplementary, now looms large as the primary means of sustenance. Uncertainty engulfs Anyango’s every thought as she wonders how she will cope in the face of such adversity.

"I never imagined I would be in this situation," Anyango reflects with a heavy sigh. "My family relies on the income from my three-acre rice farm, and now we are left in a state of uncertainty. It's not just about the financial loss; it's about our survival."

However, in the face of predicted long rains, farmers like Ndhiwa and Anyango are increasingly turning to innovative solutions and climate-smart farming techniques.

They are exploring drainage systems and considering learning and utilizing the cultivation of flood-tolerant crop varieties, and sustainable irrigation practices to mitigate the risks posed by unpredictable weather patterns.

"We need to find ways to adapt and build resilience against these changing weather patterns. It's a matter of survival for our families and future," Ndhiwa says.