Kisumu rice farmers hope to rise from Covid, floods effects

Thursday, October 29th, 2020 00:00 |
Rice farmers from West Kano Irrigation Scheme go about their work. Photo/PD/Viola Kosome

It is 9 am in the morning and Millicent Achieng, painstakingly removes debris and weed from her rice farm as she winds up a busy morning of preparing the field.

From a distance, one can assume that she is a normal farmer going about her business, but when you get closer, the anxious look in her face tells a different story.

About four months ago her entire two plots of rice at the Ahero Irrigation scheme was swept away by floods, leaving her with nothing.

Just like in the past, she assumed the situation would gradually change with time and allow hundreds of farmers in the region to continue with rice farming.

However, the onset of Covid-19 in March this year, brought more trouble for the farmers as it affected operations on the field, a situation that was compounded by the swelling waters in Lake Victoria.

Counting losses

The road to recovery was also hampered by the move by the National Irrigation Board to scale down operations at the Ahero and West Kano Irrigation schemes during the pandemic.

“It is not easy. Most farmers are struggling to pick up the pieces but we are yet to fully come out of the woods,” she said.

Achieng is not the only face counting losses.

At the scheme, several other farmers are also busy in the field, hoping for a better season.

For Charles Kute, a farmer at the Ahero Irrigation Scheme, his situation was worsened by the failure to find market for the harvests he made at the beginning of the year.

He had planned to make a kill by selling the rice to schools like he had always done,  but closure of schools due to the pandemic threw a spanner in the works.

“It is unfortunate that 90 per cent of the over 2,000 farmers are still affected up to now,” he said.

Kute told us that he rented a farm from someone at Sh20,000 per hectare and he had five hectares. He used a total of Sh250,000 to prepare and plant the field.

He claims he has only managed to get Sh75,000 only from his  investment.

Another farmer  at the West Kano Irrigation Scheme, David Dhine, devastation by Covid-19 and the natural calamities have affected several people in the region.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, the economy went down and they did not have enough money to take care of their farms.

Worse still, there were flash floods that marooned their farms, thereby destroying their rice.

Dhine said the few bags of rice they had harvested before the outbreak of the pandemic and floods were stuck in their stores couldn’t be taken to Uganda, which is the biggest market for the product.

“Covid tampered with our market since we were exporting our product to Uganda but unfortunately truck drivers ceased from coming here,” he said.

He added that most truck drivers were infected with the virus and so they weren’t allowed to come into the country.

Low production

Dhine said it reached a point when the trucks would take too long before coming for the rice, a move that saw then incur heavy losses and added expenses.

“Covid tampered with sales of the paddy despite the government giving us market within the country,” he said.

He indicated that in the wake of Covid-19, they have experienced low production rates of their produce.

“Most of us farmers lacked money to maintain our farms,” he said.

According to the Regional Manager Western Kenya Scheme under the National Irrigation Authority Joel Tanui, the farmers were seriously affected both by Covid and floods.

Tanui said they are currently working on a recovery strategy to help them bounce back. He, however, said that that West Kano Irrigation Scheme is still having a challenge with flooding due to the back flow of Lake Victoria that displaced thousands of people.

“Now, 80 per cent of the scheme is still under water, meaning there is still a serious loss of income by the farmers who are unable to grow anything this season,” he said.

The damage was so huge that  farmers in West Kano where they usually earn an average of Sh200 million per year are afraid that this year they might not even get half the amount. 

Tanui said they have aired their grievances with the ministry of Water and Irrigation to help support the farmers to get back to production.

He also said that there is a team of engineers constituted by the ministry reviewing a plan to drain West Kano Irrigation Scheme.

Looming crisis

Tanui said the National Irrigation Authority will support farmers who were affected by Covid with operations and maintenance of the scheme so that they can go back to production.

“We are also going to supply them with fertilisers and seedlings for free to help them recover  from effects of Covid,” he said.

Ruth Odinga, director for special programmes in Kisumu said they managed to provide the farmers with food when Covid hit the county.

“After supporting them during the crisis, we then handed over to the ministry of agriculture,” she said.

Despite the slow return to life in the Nyando rice belt, another crisis is looming that is also giving the farmers headache–water hyacinth.

The weed has blocked drainage into some of the rice farmers and affects pumping of water out of the farms.

In the past, the weed paralysed activities in the lake as authorities continue to struggle to find a lasting solution to a problem that is likely to bite into the region’s economy.

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kmfri) scientists Christopher Aura, Chrispine Nyamweya, Collins Ongore and John Ouko indicated that the coverage of the weed in bays in the region stood at 2, 896 hectares by mid-September.

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