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Maize and beans economy is not sustainable

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia
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The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) releases regular updates on weather elements and interpretes implications of the same for diverse sectors. For the agriculture sector, the report is referred to as Dekadal Agrometeorological Bulletin and gives a forecast for 10 days. Hence the country benefits from 3 bulletins monthly and 36 issues annually and these can play crucial role in decision making for the farming sector.

Kenya recently experienced reduced levels of precipitation in the Month of April 2019 as confirmed by KMD regular update reports. In some instances, their forecasts raised anticipation and despair among Kenyans especially farmers, pastoralists and the energy sector.

Farmers normally plant their crops just before the rains come. This year experienced delays in commencement of planting until late April when the rains came.

The Dekadal Meteorological bulletin for the period between 1st to 10th May 2019 (see a copy here http://www.meteo.go.ke/dekad/Dekad13-2019.pdf ) reported that most parts of the country received varying amounts of rainfall. The highest rainfall amount of 301.8mm was received in Central region at Kangema station; Coastal region recorded 172.1mm at Mtwapa station; Western region recorded 168.5mm at Kakamega station; Mwea and Embu Stations in Eastern region reported 103.9 and 99.3mm respectively. Kisii and Kisumu stations in Nyanza region recorded 84.7 and 80.1 mm respectively. Rift valley region recorded 74.1mm at Kericho station. Nairobi region recorded 62.7mm at JKIA station; North Eastern region reported the highest rainfall amount of 20mm at Moyale station.

The Dekadal bulletin also reports on crops growing in the farms. I was keen to study the crops that farmers planted in their farms after the rains came. Farmers were reported to have planted maize and beans in 4 regions namely Nyanza and Western (Kakamega, Kisii); Rift Valley (Kitale, Eldoret-Kapsowa); Central Kenya (Nyeri, Kabete, Nyahururu, Thika); and Eastern Kenya (Embu, Meru, Katumani). The rains had served the crops well and they were all in good health. The only challenge was noted in Kakamega and Kisii stations where it was feared that invasion by army worms may dwindle the hopes of getting a good crop.

In the Coastal region (Msabaha, Mtwapa, Lamu), the bulletin reported that farmers planted crops and were also happy with the ongoing rains. However, the bulletin failed to state the crops planted. But it may not be a surprise that the crops referred to here was also maize and beans.

This development is interesting since it depicts that crops in most Kenyan farms is maize and beans. Farmers can be at peace for now since as KMD reported, there is some rain in most parts of the country. But as usual, Kenyan weather fluctuates and there are dry and wet spells. Rainfall is expected to decrease in the coming few days (see http://www.meteo.go.ke/pdf/monthly.pdf ). If a lengthy dry spell is experienced in the next 3 months, there is likelihood that the maize and beans may be adversely affected leading to crop failure and hunger among Kenyans.

The bulletin failed to report on what was happening in Northern Kenya. Of course we know there are pockets of farming in this region mainly done through irrigation. In addition, rains contribute to growth of diverse plants that are crucial to food security in the region and a comment on them in the bulletin could be useful.

The National Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2022 flags out the need to diversify our crops as an adaptation measure for adverse weather. Maize and beans require a higher supply of water. Other crops that are either more drought or waterlogging resistant need to be promoted as appropriate to enhance chances of securing better harvests.

In addition, I am aware that there are more crops in our farms which were not reported in this Decadal Meteorological bulletin. KMD being the lead government agency in matters of weather could be leaving many farmers disappointed, when they do not see their crops mentioned. Although it may not be possible to mention all the crops in Kenyan farms, I am sure if KMD worked closely with Agricultural Extension Officers locally, they could be able to provide comments in excess of two crops. This could provide encouraging data regarding our crops diversification and hence adaptation to climate change.

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