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It was joy as they planted but tears as they harvest

By | April 30th 2010

By Maore Ithula

Maize farmers at the Bura Irrigation Scheme are experiencing the reverse of the biblical promise for those who sow seeds. Instead of planting in pain and reaping in joy, the dismal fruit of their labour is causing them distress.

The maize growers are unhappy because they doubt the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) will buy their grains this season. High humidity caused by continuing heavy rains has caused extensive damage to their harvest.

Farmers contracted by Kenya Seed Company to grow seed maize at Bura Irrigation Scheme have realised high yields.

When The Standard visited the area in Tana River District, last week, residents were apprehensive over impending massive losses. Unable to harvest their ripe crop which has been getting soggy in their fields due to lack of sunshine, they now fear tests being carried out by NCPB on their produce, will find dangerous levels of contamination with the deadly aflatoxin fungi. The board does not buy maize found to be contaminated, which happens when it is exposed to excess moisture.

Local farmer John Musyoka said: "We are a worried lot here. Our crop was ready for harvest a month or so ago but because of the long rainy season, a high number of farmers are yet to gather in their harvest."

Musyoka says whereas farmers in the area cannot blame anybody for the extreme weather condition, he notes anticipated benefits of Government revival for the Bura irrigation scheme that had ground to a halt, may be lost.

Too much rain

He laments: "Whereas most Kenyans are happy with the rains, in Bura we don’t need too much of it because we have the River Tana for irrigation. All we had wanted was Government support to bring generators to pump water into the irrigation canals, which we got. Were it not for the long rains we would be a very happy lot by this time," another maize farmer, Peter Muroki, says.

Muroki says: "Since the collapse of cotton farming about 20 years ago, we have had many false starts on the road to reviving irrigation farming in this area. This season would have been the best leap into economic revival for many people of this area. However, fate has conspired against us."

Liberate farmers

Late last year, the Government took to reviving stalled irrigation schemes in a bid to liberate farmers who relied on them from relying on rain-fed agriculture.

Under the direction of former Agriculture Minister William Ruto, the State revitalised the Bura Irrigation Scheme after the country went through a long spell of drought spanning two years.

However, whereas many farmers are laughing all the way to the banks in many areas where irrigation farming was revived, it is not the case in Bura. Here it rains almost every day.

In future, say the farmers, the State should send us field extension officers to help manage pre and post harvest challenges.

Those who had planted maize for consumption are yet to harvest it due to a prolonged rain season that threatens to destroy the crop in the fields. [PHOTOS: MAORE ITHULA/STANDARD]

However, not all is lost. for The farmers say about half of the entire maize produce in the area was commissioned for seed production by the Kenya Seed Company. This fraction has a ready market.

In the settlement scheme, there are 10 farming villages each comprising 48 parcels of land. Each farmer is entitled to two separate parcels of 1.5 acres each.

During the last season, farmers in five villages planted maize for consumption while their counterparts were advised to grow seed maize. Land in one village was used as a barrier to avoid cross-pollination between the two species. On this land, said the farmers, watermelon was grown.

It is from the last four villages where seed maize was grown that farmers are getting a sigh of relief because Kenya Seed Company is in the process of collecting, weighing and grading the produce before paying farmers their dues.

For consumption

At Sh47 per kilogramme, the price of seed maize is more attractive than that of maize for consumption, said Musyoka.

If tests being conducted NCPB on the produce give the grain a clean bill of health, said Muroki, they would earn Sh2, 300 for every 90kg of maize grown for consumption.

Maize in this area takes six months from planting to harvesting. Ideally a farmer would reap between 40 and 45 bags of 90kg each from every parcel of the 1.5 acres.

But this is far from reality, the farmers say alleging that the company that was contracted by the Government to supply them with fertiliser, gave them the wrong product thus reducing their expected harvest substantially.

In one instance, one of the farmers claimed to have harvested less than 10 bags per an acre.

Said Gerald Kenyenye: "I do not think the fertiliser we were given by the Government was right because I was only able to harvest a measly seven bags from my shamba."

Same chemical

But, an agricultural field officer who did not want his name used said some farmers fail to follow instructions then blame the Government.

For instance, Kenyenye could not explain why others who used the same chemical were able to harvest more than 20 bags per acre.

Other farmers claim their soils are exhausted although the land had been lying fallow for more than 15 years.

The field officer said when community irrigation programmes collapsed many farmers leased out their land to private large-scale farmers who have been exploiting the land without a break.

Besides the parcels of land under the irrigation scheme, there are vast tracts of land owned by individuals and the National Youth Service where extensive farming is practised.


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