Farmers in Nakuru County are staring at losses with their produce cut off from the market following Covid-19 restrictions.
On March 3, the county government directed that all hotels and some markets be closed in a bid to minimise congestion.
Hotels are now only allowed to serve customers on a takeaway basis. According to George Kihara, the proprietor of Apex Hotels in Nakuru, the restrictions have affected the entire agricultural produce supply chain.
Mr Kihara, in an interview in Nakuru yesterday, said his hotels are now recording 10 per cent of the sales they used to before the pandemic.
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“The few remaining hotels are operating at below 10 per cent of their capacity. Takeaway meals account for a negligible amount of the food we cook; mainly snacks. We are not buying much from farms to cook,” said Kihara.
The effect has trickled down to suppliers. James Karori, a trader in Nakuru’s Wakulima market, said he has scaled down orders from farmers.
“Every day I used to deliver potatoes in a seven-tonne truck to the market,” said Mr Karori.
“This has changed. Some of my colleagues have quit trading. Those of us still in business are struggling.”
The disruption in the supply chain has hit farmers hardest. Janet Gathoni, a tomato farmer in Gilgil, was set to harvest her crop last week.
She has now delayed harvesting. Traders are no longer answering her calls when she inquires when they will come to buy her tomatoes.
“The tomatoes are ready and can’t remain on the farm beyond next week. Traders have been giving me false hopes that they will soon come to buy,” said Ms Gathoni.
Her sentiments were echoed by Simon Thiira, another farmer who noted that with a majority of the population now shunning urban centres, the unstable food market in towns will crush.
“People living on farms produce their own food. Income for the urban population has been affected. Yet urban dwellers constitute our biggest market. We in the village are feeling the heat,” said Mr Thiira.
Moses Gitonga, a dairy farmer also lost his client, a local hotel which closed, forcing him to seek an alternative market where prices are not appealing.
“From my dairy farm, I get 45 liters of milk per day. I have been selling directly to a hotel at Sh40 per litre. With the hotel closed, I’m now selling to a processing company at Sh33 per litre,” said Gitonga.
Affected farmers have called on the government to develop a well-thought out stimulus programme that will help cushion them against the effects of the Covid-19.
“Farmers in every county have specific needs. The national and county governments should work together in coming up with ways to protect them. Poor planning will leave the country staring at another food shortage disaster,” said Joseph Kuria, a farmer.
While appreciating the government’s move to subsidise fertiliser prices, he also noted that much focus should be put on stabilising prices. He said the government should also make seeds available and at fair prices.