Tractors roar back to life as farmers get down to work

In the North Rift, the grain basket of Kenya, heavy rains have been witnessed for the better part of this week. Most farmers have taken advantage to plant maize while others who had done dry planting before the rains patrolled their farms to ensure that all is well.

Tractors that were parked in yards are roaring back to life in the plantations. Elsewhere, there are still queues for subsidised fertiliser at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots.

"There are good signs to the start of the long rainy season. I took advantage of the first rains on Friday to embark on planting. I have already planted more than 10 acres of maize," said Mr Thomas Bowen, a farmer from Kosachei in Uasin Gishu County.

Mr Bowen said the distribution of government-subsidized fertilizer was timely and that most maize producers had enough time to prepare for the planting season.

"The government availed adequate fertiliser in government stores but the distribution system was slow. About 200 farmers are supplied with the inputs per day in a single depot hence the need to open more distribution points," he said.

George Murgor, another farmer in Tapsagoi, said he had planted five acres of maize after observing that the rains pounding Uasin Gishu looked 'promising'.

"I did early preparation using a tractor but after the first rains, I used oxen to plough maize-planting rows to minimise operating costs. Fuel prices have made mechanised farming expensive," said Mr Murgor.

Agriculture officers in the counties have advised farmers to plant drought-resistant and fast-maturing crops, depending on the ecological zone.

Monicah Koech, a farmer from Moiben, is still monitoring the rain situation before she starts planting.

"Some areas have received heavy rains while others record low amounts. We are monitoring before engaging in commercial maize production," said Ms Koech

Trans Nzoia County has experienced heavy rains in the last two days after several months of dry spells.

Fredrick Rono, a local maize farmer, said the rain was a blessing to the farming community.

"For a long time, farmers have waited for the return of the rains. We thank God for bringing the rains. This will enable us to go back to our farms," said Mr Rono.

Despite the ongoing rains experienced in some parts of the country, more than 300,000 households in the central region have been affected by famine.

According to National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Central coordinator Lordman Lekakuli, the drought period will continue, leaving more families to face starvation.

"The March-April rains experienced in the country have also been projected to depress. We are now advising farmers to plant short-maturing crops that will grow before the dry season begins. We are also advising farmers to utilize the subsidized fertilizer that the government is providing farmers," Mr Lekakuli said.

In Nyanza, Kisumu, Migori, Bondo, and Gusii regions have been experiencing rains in the last three days.

Several rivers on the verge of drying up during the long drought, including River Nyando, have started experiencing rising water levels again as rains pound Nandi Hills and other water towers serving the region.

Charles Ochieng, a farmer in West Kano Irrigation Scheme, said he has already planted maize in his farm after undertaking crop rotation that has seen him drop rice farming.

"We are happy that the rains are back and are looking forward to a good season," he said.

In the flood-prone Nyando rice belt, several farmers had used the period of the dry spell to repair dykes in their farms in anticipation of the perennial flooding that affects the area. At Ahero, the government also repaired dykes along River Nyando, with residents optimistic that the developments will help avert flooding.

On Monday, some parts of Borabu in Nyamira County experienced heavy hailstones for the better part of the afternoon, affecting crops such as tea and vegetables.

Simon Ndege, a farmer in Rigoko, said they did not expect that kind of rain since they were preparing to harvest.

Mary Nyanchama from Nyamaiya in Nyamira County said the hailstones destroyed vegetables, leaving her with nothing to supply her customers who had paid upfront.

"We have been praying for the rain but the hailstones destroyed all my vegetables and tea in this area. My customers in Nairobi will suffer before the vegetables grow," she said.

Christine Apiyo, a farmer in Suna East, Migori County, told The Standard that she had already ploughed her farm in anticipation of the long rains.

"The cost of fertilizer is still high but I will use local compost manure to plant maize," she said.

At the Coast, temperatures remained high yesterday with Mombasa recording 33 degrees celsius while Lamu hit 31 degrees.