Mixed fortunes for farmers as virus impacts on agriculture

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 00:00 |
Packing of flowers for export at Emirates Skycargo, Nairobi. Photo/PD/RAPHAEL MUNGE

Mwangi Mumero 

 With increased closure of flower farms in Naivasha and other parts of the country as well as reduced movement on the country’s roads, agricultural activities are suffering from the coronavirus scourge.

County governments have closed local markets while the national government’s imposition of a 7pm to 5am curfew has hampered delivery of fresh produce to urban markets such as Nairobi and Mombasa.  

Halting of international flights by the State and lockdowns in European Union (EU) markets due to the Covid-19  has dealt a blow on flower exports.

Kenyan flower commands over 40 per cent of all cut flower sales in the EU. Large volumes also leave Nairobi for the Middle East, Japan and China, making Kenya a key source of global flower produce. 

The Kenya Flower Council (KFC) says only 50 per cent of the cut flower production was reaching the EU market  before the halting of international passenger flights by the government last week.

With the flights grounded, sales have plunged to 35 per cent of normal season sales amd  the sector’s 150,000 workers are witnessing layoffs.

“Uncertain markets  has forced our farms to cancel orders or even stop shipping,” says KFC CEO Clement Tulezi.

Old stocks

Suspension of direct flights to China has hampered avocado exports, which had gained traction recently.

More fresh produce is exported in the belly of passenger aircraft than by cargo freighters. Lockdowns in Europe to curb Covid-19 has kept buyers at home. 

Demand for farm produce by hotels, restaurants and cafes has also plummeted. Tourism arrivals have ground to a halt and there are no local confrences going on.  

“We have seen orders for potatoes, cabbages and onions drop sharply in Nairobi. Hotels have reduced activity with people shying away from town,” said James Mwangi, a potato transporter from Nyahururu who makes three trips to Nairobi weekly.

At Wangige market in Nairobi, vendors last week opted to dispose old stocks of vegetables following an order by the Kiambu county government to close all markets last weekend for fumigation and implementation of other health measures.

“There was no fresh produce today and prices are rising,” complained Alice Nyabuto, resident of Mwimuto village.

 Food prices are rising in border regions as imports cease with closure of borders. For instance, the closure of Kenya-Uganda border has witnessed shortage of omena and bananas imported from Uganda. 

Tea auction operational

Falling remittances from foreign countries to Kenya is also expected to impact negatively on agriculture.

A chunk of Diaspora remittances is used in the planting season where farmers purchase seeds and farm inputs. The cost of inputs is bound to rise in the coming days due to reduced shipping from overseas.   

However, it’s not all gloom. Joseph Lagat, tea farmer in Nandi Jills, says tea plucking is going on.

“We are using scheme plucking where pickers are  allocated five lines of bushes for social distancing. All farm workers have to sanitise their hands regularly,” he says. 

“We are happy that the tea auction in Mombasa is still going on, albeit with fewer personnel. Had it closed down completely, it would have forced us to stop plucking too,” he adds. 

 Kenyans, especially in urban areas are panic buying as they stock up in case of a full lockdown.

Already local markets and supermarkets have been experienced increased sales as people purchase rice, potatoes, onions, vegetables and other food items.

“We have witnessed increased purchase of bigger chunks of meat mainly for refrigeration. We have to increase our slaughtered animals to meet demand,” said Joash Makau, a butcher in Kitengela town.

In a recent meeting with government ministries following the outbreak, the newly formed sector lobby group, Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET) called for increased surveillance, testing and preventive measures to avoid spread of the virus. 

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has since assured Kenyans that the Ministry will ensure that all necessary facilitation and support is provided to farmers to enable farming activities to continue for food and nutrition security, keeping in mind the safety and health of the farmers.

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