When Mohamud Abdullahi visited a friend in Meru in 2017, he saw a business opportunity in growing bananas on his farm, which borders Daua, a seasonal river, in Mandera County.
“My aim was to plant bananas and sell them at the local market because most people were sourcing them from Somalia and Ethiopia,” said the farmer, who hails from Mandera East and owns 30 acres.
He chose to farm the crop under irrigation because he already had the infrastructure, including irrigation tunnels and machinery. He had previously been growing onions, watermelons, vegetables and capsicum.
“I bought 600 tissue culture banana seedlings at Sh100 each from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology,” he recounted.
For the past one year, his six-acre banana farm has been doing well, with more than 200 bunches ready for harvest.
But as fate would have it, the worst happened on May 9 when River Daua broke its banks, flooding farms. “I woke up that morning to find my farm flooded. It had not rained in Mandera but water was coming from Ethiopia.”
Abdullahi hired youths to harvest mature bunches of bananas from the flooded farm as water washed away the remaining plants.
“I have lost at least Sh1.2 million in the banana business and another Sh1.5 million on the onion farm, which was also destroyed,” he said. A bunch of bananas in Mandera goes for between Sh700 and Sh1,200, depending on the size.
Mandera County director of agriculture Bernard Ogutu said it will take most farmers up to four months to stabilise.
According to Ogutu, bananas, especially the ripening varieties, thrive well in areas that are 1,200m and 1,600m above sea level and need rainfall averaging 1,200mm, and with average temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius.
“Farmers in the county grow the crop under irrigation and the production has been good. We have been improving our supply volumes to the local market,” he said.
He noted that the flooding in Mandera is perennial. “We are always on the receiving end whenever it rains in Ethiopia but this has been the worst since 2013,” he said.
At least 4,600 farmers have been affected along the river and crops and farm machinery worth Sh834 million destroyed, according to the county agriculture office.
Many miles away in Nakuru, Daniel Ndung’u, who grows seedlings, also suffered a similar fate when rains washed away his plants.
“I had planted 42,000 seedlings of different species that include cypress, avocado, grevillea, eucalyptus, fruits and flowers, but rains destroyed at least 32,000 of them,” said Ndung’u, who started the business in 2008.
The farmer noted that most of those that remained have also died due to the shock.
“The floods washed away the nylons pots. I recovered the seedlings and tried to plant them but it has not worked,” recounted Ndung’u, who is currently working on relocating his business.
The flooding problem has exacerbated the plight of farmers, who are reeling from the effects of Covid-19 containment measures, including curfew and partial lockdown.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, most of the seedlings had overgrown his seedbed due to restriction of movement from Nairobi, where some of his customers came from.
“One of the reasons I have incurred huge losses is that customers could not collect their seedlings,” said the farmer, adding the seedlings go for between Sh50 and Sh300.