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Insecurity leaves crops rotting

This is a photo of the Great Rift Valley as it is visible near Eldoret, Kenya. It was taken by Michael Shade in the fall of 2006.
A view of Kenya's Rift Valley (Michael Shade/Wikimedia Commons)

Teresia Chebet and hundreds of other small-scale farmers in the western Kenyan district of Nandi North have not been directly affected by the violence that has ravaged the country in the past month, yet their livelihoods are threatened because markets have become inaccessible.

"My tomatoes are rotting in the fields, what we harvest we use to cook, the rest we feed to the chickens and calves because roads going to many markets have been blocked," Chebet, 46, told IRIN on 31 January. "I can't even share the tomatoes with my neighbours because theirs are also rotting."

Chebet's neighbour, Ezekiel Seurei, 52, has five acres of pineapples. "Although the pineapples are not in season, I am now hawking the little that I harvest because I cannot get to the markets in Uasin Gishu [a neighbouring district]," Seurei said. "For now, I am taking my pineapples to [the privately owned] Baraton University as well as selling them in schools and other institutions."

Roads in the district, like others in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Kenya regions, considered the stronghold of the opposition Orange Democratic Party (ODM), have not escaped the wrath of marauding youths who have taken to violence in protest over the outcome of the 27 December 2007 presidential election.

President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner but opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the result, saying the poll was rigged in Kibaki's favour. Since then, violence has rocked parts of the country, with the latest fighting taking ethnic dimensions.

Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
The amount of maize being harvested is not covering the cost of inputs

The lack of access to markets has affected not only Nandi North but the whole Rift Valley Province, the country's bread-basket, has been hit.

In their latest update on Kenya's post-election emergency, UN agencies and NGOs identify livelihood support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and others affected by the violence as a priority. This would be done by distributing agricultural inputs and basic construction kits for re-establishing small business enterprises, according to the 4-29 January inter-cluster progress report prepared by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya).

Planned intervention

According to the report, humanitarian actors and the government are working on an inter-agency strategic framework for early recovery and food security.

As emergency response and recovery efforts continue on the national level, small-scale as well as large-scale dairy and maize farmers count their losses.

Jeremiah Ruto, a maize and dairy farmer who owns a milk plant in Kabiyet, Nandi North District, said poor rains, coupled with the violence, had severely affected his operations.

"Before the violence, I sold about 2,000l of milk daily in Kisumu [capital of the neighbouring Nyanza Province] but now this has dropped to only 500l, and then only if my vehicle can get to Kisumu," he said. "We used to make daily trips to Kisumu but we are now doing the trip once or twice a week depending on whether the roads are clear and if we have sufficient quantities.” Ruto has also had to lay off several workers.

The picture is even worse for maize farming. "There is no maize to speak of this time," Ruto said. "The quantity we harvested was very low due to the poor rains last year; some farmers have not even harvested despite the December-January harvest season drawing to an end. I usually harvested about 1,000 bags from 40 acres under maize but this time I got only 400 bags; this does not even cover the inputs I used."

Costly fertiliser

More worrying is the fact that most maize farmers have not started preparing for the next planting season, mainly because of the prevailing unrest but also due to the prohibitive cost of inputs.

"Last year, a bag of fertiliser went for Ksh2,000 [US$30], now it is being sold for KSh3,500 [$54]; a lot of my friends and I are hesitant to prepare the land because the input might exceed the output," Ruto said.

Due to the unrest, the National Cereals and Produce Board of Kenya, in charge of the country's grain reserves, has not yet opened maize-buying centres across the Rift Valley region this year.

According to a January update by the Kenya Food Security Network, which comprises the UN World Food Programme (WFP), USAID, Famine Early Warning System and the government, the unrest has led to an unprecedented decline in food security among normally food-secure farmers as well as the urban poor.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
A child displaced in the post-election violence receives donated food at a camp

Overall, the group said, national food security had dramatically declined in just two weeks following the violence that has resulted in hundreds of deaths, displacement of at least 290,000 people and destruction of livelihoods for hundreds of thousands more.

The Kenya Food Security Network is due to conduct a multi-agency food security assessment in the first week of February to determine the extent of food insecurity in the affected areas.

In its humanitarian update covering 21-28 January, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya), stated: "The next two months are usually a critical period for land preparation and planting, however, with the prospects for return and resettlement being rather dim, many, if not most, of the farmers will not be able to carry out these tasks. Rising prices are also affecting farm inputs and availability of basic commodities in the markets throughout the country."

Farmers who depend on short rains and those in drought-prone areas are likely to experience significant crop failure, OCHA-Kenya stated.

Going it alone

Nick Moon, the managing director of KickStart - which produces water pumps and oil presses - told IRIN on 31 January that the demand for the company’s portable water pumps had risen in the past month. He attributes the high demand to farmers' need for greater self-reliance in the face of poor access to markets to buy food.

The small pumps cost Ksh2,490 [$35] and weigh about 4kg. He said farmers could bounce back to productivity, with time and the technology, such as the portable irrigation pumps, which are affordable for many farming communities.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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