Migori: Irony of agriculturally-rich county that imports food from Tanzania

Beatrice Atieno displays her fish at Migori Marindi market on February 18, 2022. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Migori County has great agricultural potential but relies heavily on food imports from neighbouring counties and Tanzania as farmers dwell on cash crops.

Most traders have been relying on fresh produce imports from Tanzania as others ferry their produce in bulk from Kisii and Nyamira counties.

The traders say they source for produce from these areas as they come in bulk compared to what comes from within, adding that imports from Tanzania are much cheaper.

“Products from Tanzania and transport costs are much cheaper,” says Martha Ouma, a vegetable vendor.

Although Migori boasts of large swathes of arable land, focus on cash crops like sugarcane and tobacco has seen it rely on imports from other areas to meet demand for food. Some parcels of land have been left lying idle with some farmers abandoning agriculture to focus on sand harvesting.

A spot check at Isebania at the border of Kenya and Tanzania established that most food products are smuggled from Tanzania into Migori.

The traders also prefer importing onions from Tanzania as they are of “superior quality” compared to the ones grown in Kenya.

Mercy Anyango, an onion trader in Migori, says before fuel prices went up, they would buy one kilo of onions between Sh20 and Sh22, but now the prices have shot to Sh35.

Christina Makoreri, who supplies onions to traders at Migori market, says she buys a 40kg bag of onions at Sh7,000 and sells the same at Sh9,000.

“Traders usually scramble for my onions because they are fresh, of good quality, and pocket-friendly,” says Makoreri.

Rosemary Mwita, who imports onions, garlic, lemons and cucumbers, says she started bringing the produce from Tanzania to Migori after she realised the demand was high.

“There is a very high demand for Tanzanian products here because of the quality and price,” Mwita says.

Loice Chialo, who imports rice from Tanzania, says she has no regrets since she ventured into the trade three years ago. This is despite the fact that Migori also produces rice at Lower Kuja Irrigation Scheme, a venture residents claim is grossly underutilised.

Stock from Kisii

Traders at Soko Mjinga in Migori town say they rely on produce from Kisii County, as they make orders and their stock is brought to the market by a lorry.

“Getting stock has been difficult and since we found out there was a way we could get it from Kisii County, we have never looked back as traders,” says Hilda Bhoke, a vegetable vendor at Soko Mjinga market.

Governor Ochilo Ayacko’s administration has now embarked on engagements with farmers to reintroduce farming and boost food production in the county.

The agriculture department has in the recent past been holding meetings with farmers and encouraging them to engage in farming activities. The county wants farmers to give up tobacco farming and focus on alternative crops like Nyota beans, which is a fast-maturing crop, and sweet potatoes.

During his swearing-in on August 25, Governor Ayacko pledged to implement his manifesto and revamp key sectors, including agriculture by introducing new cash crops, among other things.

Already, the county food safety committee led by Agriculture CEC Lucas Mosenda has formulated a strategic plan focusing on building various value chains, including horticulture, chicken, meat, fish and livestock.

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