In Summary
  • With many farmers choosing to irrigate their crops as the dry weather bites, dealers of irrigation kits have taken advantage of the drought to hike the price of equipment.
  • Water volumes in major rivers in the region like Thanantu and Thingithu, which support irrigation farming have dropped considerably, a sign of trouble for crop farmers.
  • Dr Eric Otieno, a vet and animal breeder at Mazao Yetu Dairy Farm in Koru, Kisumu County, says the cost of production for many dairy farmers has doubled due to increased feed prices.
  • Farmers are thirsy for information that can help them grow crops with minimal stress. We have sent nearly all our agronomists in the field to reach farmers we work with.

Not so long ago, different parts of the country were drenched in floods following heavy rains that poured day and night.

Shortly after the rains, which did not last for long, sprouted lush green vegetation, making livestock farmers happier.

But as fate would have it, a dry spell followed soon after. Most crops planted during the October-December rain season have withered and the lucky livestock farmers are struggling to find pasture for their animals.

The unlucky ones have either sold their animals at throw away prices or lost them to drought.

Dan Odhiambo, a farmer in Kisumu County who grows a variety of vegetables, says before the dry spell, his farm was flourishing with lettuce, spinach and indigenous vegetables such spider plant (saget) and black nightshade (managu).

But he has been forced to drop most of the crops due to scarcity of water, concentrating now on sukuma wiki (collard greens), watermelon and tomatoes.

“I usually pump water from River Wigwa to my farm when there are no rains. But the water level has reduced that I cannot do it as regular as I wish,” he says, adding last week he could not believe it when half-an-acre offered him a 90kg sack after two weeks instead of three.

With many farmers choosing to irrigate their crops as the dry weather bites, dealers of irrigation kits have taken advantage of the drought to hike the price of equipment.

A sprinkler kit is currently going for Sh3,500 from about Sh2,000.

In Tharaka Nithi County, while it is a semi-arid region, the drought has worsened the plight of farmers.

Selestino Mbabu says the rains in the past were not sufficient but they enabled him to plant maize and beans once a year on his four acres in Mara.

But his farm is now desolate as the maize he planted in October has dried.

LIVESTOCK SECTOR

“The April rains started late and were inadequate and the same thing happened in October. I did not harvest much maize from the April season but planted in October hoping for the best but I was wrong,” Mbabu says as he looks up to the sky for any signs of rain.

Water volumes in major rivers in the region like Thanantu and Thingithu, which support irrigation farming have dropped considerably, a sign of trouble for crop farmers.

But it is the livestock sector that has seemingly been worst hit by the dry spell.

Seeds of Gold teams met several farmers in different parts of the country with their free-range animals searching for pasture and water.

Livestock share the scarce water available at a river in Olaare, Uasin Gishu.

Livestock share the scarce water available at a river in Olaare, Uasin Gishu. The river is the only source of water available in the area at the moment. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Of course there were more animals than pasture, leading to despair as some sold off their herds to avoid losses.

The zero-grazers, on the other hand, are grappling with increased production costs as others too sell their animals.

Grace Wanjiru, a dairy farmer in Mukurwe-ini, sold three of her five dairy cows last week.

The retired teacher has been depending on napier grass and weeds from her farm but they were not enough. Of the two remaining, she is milking one, but the cow is barely producing any milk.

“I sold one of my favourite Friesian cows at Sh18,000 yet it could have fetched at least Sh30,000 during ordinary times,” she says, noting brokers are taking advantage of high number of people willing to sell their cows and dictating prices.

“I normally plant maize and sorghum for making silage to last me at least three months. But last year I planted the crops in October but they failed due to poor rains. I have been forced to turn to hay that I buy a bale at Sh300, up from Sh150 from Nakuru,” says Patrick Magana, a dairy farmer in Seme, Kisumu County.

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David Chombet, a farmer in Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County, says he feeds his four cows mainly dairy meal and some grass he had conserved after the long rains. He is buying a 70kg bag of dairy meal at Sh2,500 from Sh1,500. His milk production has halved reducing his earnings.

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