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Monday, January 23, 2017

FARMERS ADOPT COPING STRATEGIES AS DRY SPELL HITS CROPS AND LIVESTOCK

Herders from Wajir converge at Jaldesa water-point in Marsabit to water their animals after trekking for miles in search of water which is currently scarce in the region and country generally. PHOTO | KEN BETT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SEEDS OF GOLD TEAM
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.
FEEDING LIVESTOCK
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.
“We have a challenge of getting water due to the dry weather. I used to get 20 litres of milk from each of my cows but now I am getting only 10.”
Across the country, a bale of hay is currently going from Sh250 to Sh350 from an average of Sh150.
Sabastian Kamamia, a Boma Rhodes farmer in Narok, who makes hay notes that the commodity is becoming scarcer as days pass.
“Myself I am selling a bale at Sh300 but as demand from dairy farmers grows, I will increase to up to Sh400.”
David Khatete, a livestock officer at Kenya Seed Company Ltd in Kitale, which keeps over 700 dairy and beef animals, says they have witnessed an increasing demand for hay as farmers try to cope with the situation.
“We used to sell less than 800 bales in a day, however, we are currently selling 3,000 due to increased demand. For us we are not feeling the impact of the drought because we have 200 acres of fodder that has not been harvested yet,” Khatete says, adding they are selling hay at Sh150 per bale.
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.
“Before the drought, we used to buy a kilo of wheat bran at between Sh8 and Sh10, the price has now reached Sh15,” he says, adding that the situation has hit hard many farms.
In anticipation of the drought, the farm that hosts 1,280 Boran and Red Poll animals, prepared silage and hay months ago when there was a lot of grass.
LOW NUTRITIONAL VALUE
“This stock has helped ease burden on us but our next strategy is to cut sugarcane tops, which we will feed our animals should the situation persist,” says Dr Otieno.
Kenya Dairy Farmers Federation chairman Richard Tuwei says they are in the process of updating their database to link members to pasture.
Selestino Mbabu in his withered maize farm in Tharaka-Nithi.

Selestino Mbabu in his withered maize farm in Tharaka-Nithi. The ravaging drought has worsened the plight of farmers in the semi-arid region. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
 
“The drought is a threat to the dairy sector because we don’t know what will happen with some of our stock before the rains come. As much as we will link members to fodder, we request the government comes to our rescue.”
But is not only hay that has doubled, an acre of maize for ensiling is going for Sh60,000 up from Sh30,000. Similarly, the cost of a 70kg bag of dairy meal has hit Sh3,000.
To cope with the situation, dairy farmers who cannot afford hay are turning to rice and wheat straws, dry maize stovers and banana stems, which according to experts have low nutritional value.
With stovers, the animal spends plenty of time, up to 72 hours, digesting it while banana stems contain 95 per cent water meaning the feeds are only meant to pacify hunger pangs but add no value in milk production.
“This dry season you will find bodies of most cows emaciated because they are not getting much,” says Paul Mambo, a dairy consultant in Meru.
Mambo observes that quality of milk during the dry season is also affected as farmers opt mainly for concentrates in form of dairy meal to attain the same level of milk.
RISE IN INQUIRIES
“More concentrate than fodder means that the animals don’t get enough fibre leading to low density milk of below 26 as the butyric acid that is responsible for butter fat secretion isn’t fully secreted. When there is less fodder, there is less chewing of cud meaning there is less secretion of butyric acid leading to low butter fat,” he notes, adding, “And when farmers substitute fodder with dairy meal, there will be more propionic acid than butyric acid translating to more watery milk that will be rejected at the co-operative.”
Nelson Maina, the marketing manager at Elgon Kenya, an agri-inputs firm, notes that enquiries on stress-tolerant seeds, water-harvesting techniques, greenhouse farming and irrigation kits has gone up.
“Farmers are thirsty 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.”
Water and Irrigation PS, Prof Fred Sigor, says the government has released Sh221 million for borehole services,  water trucking, and purchase of collapsible tanks so that water is transported to 23 hard-hit counties.
“There are counties where livestock has died due to lack of water and therefore providing water will be very crucial for such areas.”
Due to the ongoing drought, incidents of communities fighting over water have been reported in Trans Nzoia County, while in Turkana, pastoralists have reportedly crossed over to Uganda in search of pasture.
Caroline Wambui, Stanley Kimuge, Elizabeth Ojina, Rachel Kibui and Leopold Obi.
SOURCE: NMG

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