In Summary
  • It is harvest time at Nkorinkori, the heartland of Narok, East Africa’s largest growing wheat belt accounting for the nearly half of the 500,000 tonnes of wheat produced locally.
  • The crop has been very good this year. Much of it is attributed to the el nino rains which were facilitative rather than destructive,” Narok County chief officer in charge of agriculture Christopher Nkunkuu says.
  • Despite this bumper harvest, however, low prices occasioned by cheap imports have continued to plague the sector. The 10 per cent import duty slapped by the East African Community common market four years ago has seen millers opt for wheat from such countries as Russia.
  • Wheat farmer, Hugo Wood, warned that food security was jeopardised if the government would not stop the importation of wheat in favour of local produce.

The giant New Holland machine rips through the plantation, raising blinding dust in its wake. After one long trip amid the humming of the engine, it deposits grain into a waiting truck before embarking on a virgin set of rows.

Tens, perhaps hundreds of combine harvesters have pitched tent here, slowing traffic on the Bomet-Nairobi road and bringing roaring business in Narok and other trading centres.

It is harvest time at Nkorinkori, the heartland of Narok, East Africa’s largest growing wheat belt accounting for the nearly half of the 500,000 tonnes of wheat produced locally.

After years of braving harsh weather and diseases, wheat farmers in the region have a bumper crop this time around.

“The crop has been very good this year. Much of it is attributed to the El Nino rains which were facilitative rather than destructive,” Narok County chief officer in charge of agriculture Christopher Nkunkuu says.

Scientists at the Kenya agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (Kalro) were also instrumental in coming up with varieties that are stress tolerant.

“We tested 14 varieties from Kalro and farmers adopted a few of these which have been doing well. They include eagle 10, Korongo and robin.”
He said stem rust has also not been as virulent, giving farmers a breather except during the last few weeks.

Even then, routine spraying was enough to manage it.

Mr Nkukuu was referring to Ug99, so named because of the country it was first discovered (Uganda), and the year it was named.

Also referred to as the polio of agriculture, the disease can wipe out up to 70 per cent of the crop, with most victims being the new unsuspecting farmers who plunge into wheat farming after being lured by tales of fabulous riches to be made in the venture.

While land under wheat has been diminishing due to competition from pasture farming, occasioned by the dairy craze in the county, the trend has been reversed in the last few years after Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease relentlessly attacked maize in the region driving many maize farmers to seek refuge in wheat.

The fertiliser subsidy programme also appears to have borne fruit. The government this year imported 104,000 tonnes of fertiliser which the National Cereals and Produce Board was to sell a 50 kilogramme bag to smallholder farmers at Sh1,800, nearly half the Sh3,500 charged by retailers.

However, middlemen soon infiltrated the system and the non-deserving farmers were soon having a field day. Mr Nkukuu says a more effective system would be one in which a universal price was set, even if it was not as low as the present one.

MIGRATORY BIRD MENACE

This year the crop also came under attack by the quelea, a migratory bird species that can consume thousands of acres of crop in a week.

“We found an estimated nine million in Duka Moja, Nkareta and Nkorinkori. The roosts were destroyed by aircraft from the Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa – the regional body in charge after we informed them,” Mr Nkukuu informed us.

Each bird consumes 10 grammes a day, and if uninterrupted by farmers who scare them away, the nine million birds could have decimated 90 tonnes a day.”

Mr Nkukuu calls for more preparedness to minimise damage whose extent he said would only be clear after complete harvesting.

“As a country we need to be more prepared in controlling the migratory birds. We had a slow response because we don’t have enough planes. The quality of the fleet has to improve.”

Narok last year produced 169,000 tonnes of wheat, earning the farmers slightly over Sh6bilion. The estimated harvest this year are 187,884 tonnes, reflecting a 30 per cent increase. Many farmers expect 12 bags from an acre and above.

Despite this bumper harvest, however, low prices occasioned by cheap imports have continued to plague the sector. The 10 per cent import duty slapped by the East African Community common market four years ago has seen millers opt for wheat from such countries as Russia.

Kenya is a wheat-deficit country relying on imports to meet the growing demand for the product.

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