Kenya: Farmers "need help to reap rewards of El-Niño rains"

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 27 August 2009 (IRIN) - Following below-average harvests in 2007 and 2008, Kenya's grain farmers need seed and fertilizer support to enable them to make use of El Niño rains, expected between October and December 2009, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.

"Given that most of the farmers, both in high potential and agriculturally marginal ecosystems, lost most of what they invested in the short rains of 2008 and long rains of 2009, there is an urgent need to support them with inputs such as seed and fertilizer, to enable them to utilize the anticipated El Niño rains . [to enhance] their household food security and contribute towards bridging of the deficit in the national grain and other food budget," FAO said on 27 August.

The agency appealed for US$23 million to enable it and the Ministry of Agriculture to supply various inputs to at least 100,000 families, "each growing an average of three acres in Rift Valley, Central Kenya highlands and marginal agricultural areas of eastern Kenya".

Kenya's Meteorological Department on 26 August said the outlook for the October-December short rains indicated that much of the country would likely experience near-normal to above-normal rainfall.

"This El Niño is currently classified as moderate or mild compared with that of 1997-1998. The distribution of the rainfall in time and space is expected to be generally good over most places," it said.

The department said the rainfall expected over most of the country's agricultural areas would be adequate for good crop performance.

"Farmers are, therefore, advised to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and take advantage of the expected good rainfall performance, the extended rainfall season, and extended length of the growing period, to maximize on the crop yield," the department said.

It recommended that the emergency measures currently in place - food and water being distributed by the military to drought-affected populations - should be sustained until March 2010.

FAO said the near-certain El Niño type of rainfall during the short rains, due to start mid-September, provided "an opportunity to utilize the rains in both agriculturally high to medium potential areas and marginal ecosystems in production of off-season crops such as Irish potato, hybrid maize-500 series, green grams, cowpeas and horticultural crops".

Insufficient harvests

Kenya's annual consumption of maize, the staple food, is 33 million bags of 90kg each, said FAO; of this, 22 million are produced in agriculturally high and medium potential areas of Rift Valley and Western Province, mainly during the long March-June rains; another six million are produced in marginal agricultural eco-systems of Eastern Kenya, mainly during the October-December rains, while the remainder come from the Central Kenya Highlands and informal cross-border and official imports.

Since the harvest from the 2006 long rains, Kenya has not had a bumper maize crop with adequate surpluses that could stabilize supplies, the agency added.

"The declining trend in domestic maize supply is destined for the worst situation in the recent past, only comparable to 1984, this year, mainly due to an estimated 45 percent decline in production in the agriculturally high and medium potential areas during the long rains of 2009," FAO said.

"This will imply that the country will anticipate a deficit of 10 million bags from the traditional grain surplus regions. The impending scenario has been caused by inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall during the main growing long rains season this year."

Warmer oceans

According to the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), El Niño conditions have become established over the tropical Pacific, and it is likely these will continue through the remainder of 2009 and probably into the first quarter of 2010.

"The ocean surface and subsurface in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific has been substantially warmer than normal during June and July, supporting the development of an El Niño event," WMO said in an update issued on 19 August. "Atmospheric conditions across the tropical Pacific are increasingly showing patterns typical of a developing El Niño event. The development of a basin-wide El Niño has implications for the expected climate patterns in many parts of the world."