Good for the grass’. This was the analogy of current rains influence to livelihoods by the Kenya Meteorological Department. This is probably because of delayed onset leading to prediction of poor performance this season which will be inadequate for crop production. In addition to unpredictable weather patterns, farmers had to endure hard economic times.
First, they disposed off their harvests at a throwaway prices following a bumper harvest late last year. Still, thousands of tonnes of maize were imported to an already flooded market. Excess supplies pushed prices down to as low as Sh 800 for a 90kg bag. Again, The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots were unable to handle excess grain from farmers thus opting for alternative outlets and or usage.
All in all, expectations for a favourable season this year is yet to wane despite the challenges. However, the absence of subsidised fertiliser and seeds support to small-scale farmers during the current season, will impact on food production projections. Though farm inputs were available in the market, they were selling at exorbitant prices.
Farmers have had to brave harsh economic times and allocate a fraction of their savings if only an acre or two would be put under crop production. Unfortunately, those who had done dry planting incurred losses after the rains delayed. It is apparent that rainfall trends have deviated from the known seasonal calendar. As a result, farmers are unable to plan adequately for seasonal activities. The long rains eventually came in mid-April, and as usual, farmers retreated to their farms to replant in anticipation of enhanced rainfall for the remainder of the season. To the contrary, rainfall performance thus far is below average.
On the other hand, the rains brought good tiding to the arid and semi-arid counties presently on a recovery path from effects of drought. Again, irrigation activities are expected to resume as river flows improve. But, farmer’s susceptibility to the effects of climate change, calls for strategic positioning through appropriate seasonal forecasting. Ongoing weather unpredictability implies that continued reliance on rain-fed agriculture is no longer sustainable and will continue impacting negatively on livelihoods.
The evolving weather patterns require close monitoring to guide sound seasonal predictions, information sharing, and dissemination to end users. Also, there should be regular seasonal updates, advisories and extension services at the grass roots. Weak weather-related support systems to small-scale farmers affect production. Farmers should be regularly cushioned and equipped against vagaries of weather which have become more frequent and disastrous. Distinctly, weather forecasting of the late ’90s was a crucial tool for scenario-based planning, a practice meriting emulation if acceptable to farmers. Counties should adopt participatory scenario building and forecasting as a platform of informing, learning and planning before season onset. Access to reliable and valid weather forecast beforehand will adequately prepare farmers in making informed seasonal assessment hence lessen the risk of season crop failures. Only then will small scale farmers make a valuable contribution to the food security agenda.
Kiragu Kariuki, Public Policy and administration expert.