Cereal farmers on edge as heavy rains pound the Rift

Moiben was hit by hailstones that caused heavy crop losses. Strong winds felled wheat and may affected mechanised harvesting. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Heavy rains in the North Rift over the past week are causing sleepless nights for cereal producers preparing to harvest their crops.

Coming weeks ahead of predicted El Nino rains, according to the meteorological department, there is also fear of post-harvest losses if humid conditions persist.

Farmers rely on subsidised fertilizer at Sh3,500 per 50 kg bag, and timely distribution, for good crop development.

Unfortunately, heavy rains are hindering their efforts and expectations of good yields.

On Tuesday afternoon, Moiben constituency was hit by hailstones that caused heavy crop losses.

“Heavy rains accompanied by strong winds pounded our region, with hailstones destroying four acres of my wheat farm,” said Janet Mutai, a farmer at Ranymoi village.

By Wednesday afternoon, lumps of ice by the roadside and in farms were still melting with wheat fields and pasture extensively damaged.

“My wheat farm was mature, and I was only left with two weeks for harvesting. All the investment has been destroyed. I took a credit facility and I am now worried about how I will repay,” said Ms Mutai, adding that she was expecting to harvest an average of 18 bags each of 90 kilogrammes per acre, bringing the loss to 72 bags.

Mutai said she was relying on proceeds from the wheat farm to pay her children’s school fees. The farmer said her hope now rests on a three-acre maize farm that was not affected much by the rains.

Jackson Kwambai, another farmer from Moiben, said although the hailstones did not affect his farm, strong winds felled his wheat crop and may affected mechanised harvesting.

“Portions of the wheat field were flattened by strong winds. These sections may pose difficulty during harvesting,” said Mr Kwambai.

He expressed concern that if El Nino predictions come true, farmers may face post-harvest losses.

Uasin Gishu Agriculture Executive Edward Sawe said the hailstones were sporadic in Moiben, and the extent of damage is yet to be quantified.

"Uasin Gishu is among the counties mapped out for the anticipated El Nino phenomenon. It was projected for October, but it seems it has come early. We are also advising farmers to make use of the short rains to gain financial value from their farms,” said Mr Sawe.

Joseph Sang, a maize farmer from Chepkanga, said they have a few weeks before full-scale maize harvesting starts.

“We no longer need rain at the moment because we are approaching harvesting. If the humid condition persists, then we will suffer huge losses. Our crop developed well despite a short dry spell between July and August. We are, however, anticipating good harvests,” said Mr Sang.

Jeremiah Kosgei, a maize trader in Eldoret, said current maize prices have dropped to Sh4,000 per 90-kg bag from Sh4,400 in the last week.

“We urge the government to announce current season maize producer prices to allow farmers to plan well on how to market their produce. Currently, there is a fear of unpredictable prices. Farmers fear to sell with the hope of the government setting better and higher prices.

"On the other hand, millers are not buying with the hope that the government will offer lower prices that will make food more affordable,” said Mr Kosgei.

Kosgei urged the government to ensure grain driers are available at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores ahead of anticipated El Nino rains.

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