In Summary
  • Farmers will harvest only 33 million bags, compared with 44 million last year, the Ministry of Agriculture announced Wednesday.

  • This represents a drop of a quarter or 25 per cent of the harvest. The expected harvest is a fraction of the 52 million bags the government had targeted.

Kenya is staring at a food-shortage crisis and tough economic times following projections of a sharp drop in the maize harvest this year.

Farmers will harvest only 33 million bags, compared with 44 million last year, the Ministry of Agriculture announced Wednesday.

DRY SPELL

This represents a drop of a quarter or 25 per cent of the harvest. The expected harvest is a fraction of the 52 million bags the government had targeted.

The sharp drop, attributed to reduced acreage under the crop, a devastating drought during the planting season and incessant attacks by the fall army worm, is expected to have ripple effects across the economy.

Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary Andrew Tuimur, announcing the anticipated drop in maize production, disclosed that land under the crop shrank from 2.2 million hectares last year to 1.5 million hectares.

There was also uneven germination of the crop due to a lengthy dry spell during the planting period.

The planting season in the North Rift region, the country’s main food basket, runs from March to May. This period, traditionally wet, experienced a prolonged drought and later erratic rainfall, resulting in uneven germination and withering of the crop.

Dr Johnstone Irungu, the director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, also explained that multiple infestation of the dreaded fall army worms damaged the crop.

LOW MORALE

The North Rift region produces 80 per cent of the total national maize crop and the anticipated lower production spells doom for the country’s food security.

“We are dispatching a team of experts to carry out an assessment to find the full extent of the loss,” Dr Irungu said.

Dr Tuimur and Dr Irungu were speaking during an agribusiness exhibition at the University of Eldoret on Tuesday.

The government’s grim forecast is backed by the Agricultural Information Network, a service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has predicted lower yields for maize, as well as for wheat and rice — two other staple foods in Kenya.

The agency reported reduced acreage under cultivation of the key crops against increased consumption of the cereals. “Corn/maize production is forecast at 3.6 million tonnes in 2019-20 down from 4.05 million in 2018-19,” warns the USDA report.

It attributes the decline to low morale among farmers caused by a market crisis last season.

TOUGH TIMES

The two bleak reports are in tandem with an earlier warning by the Parliamentary Budget Office of an all-time high inflation, signalling tough times for Kenyans already reeling under a high cost of living.

The projections came on the back of the latest Kenya National Bureau of Statistics figures that indicated only 78,400 new formal jobs were created in the economy last year, compared with 114,400 in 2017.

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