2. Kenya: El Nino rains suggest risk and opportunity for farmers hit by drought (Business Daily)

| September 21, 2009

Download this story

For decades, the pan on Daniel Waatho’s farm has provided him with water. He uses the pan to harvest rainwater on his farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley province. But this year was different. His water pan has dried up. Worse, the drought killed his maize crop and caused his beans to shrivel and dry.

These failed crops are only one of Mr. Waatho’s worries. He is also concerned with the months ahead. El Nino is expected to bring heavy rains to Kenya. Mr. Waatho is torn between preparing to plant maize or diversifying into other crops such as beans, sorghum, and cassava.

Kenya is in the midst of its worst drought in a decade. There was almost no rain during the usual rainy season. Farmers were only able to harvest about a quarter of the average maize crop. With little quality pasture, livestock are dying. According to the World Food Programme, one in ten Kenyans requires food aid.

Now, the Kenya Meteorological Department predicts El Nino rains will arrive, falling between mid-September and December. But they may not bring everything hungry farmers are looking for.

Joseph Mukabana is director of the meteorological department. As he puts it, the environment “is not wearing any clothes.” Because the drought destroyed vegetation across the country, El Nino rains are likely to result in soil erosion and siltation, Mr. Mukabana adds. He expects flooding and mudslides in parts of the country.

Michael Makokha is the food security and early warning systems specialist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He has a more positive outlook on the coming rains. Mr. Makokha urges farmers in Rift Valley, Nyanza, and Western provinces to take advantage of the rains to plant off-season crops which can bridge food gaps. He recommends crops such as cassava, sorghum, sweet potatoes, green grams, and cowpeas.

Back on his farm, Mr. Waatho is uncertain what the rains will bring. Will his pan fill with water, or will it be filled with soil that has eroded from his upper field? He knows he must try to plant something. He hasn’t given up on maize, but is seriously considering other crops for the coming months. He is appealing to the government to supply farmers with seed and fertilizer, so that they can make good use of the rains.