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September 17, 2007

Heavy rain threatens Kenya grain crops

Barley, wheat and maize farmers in parts of Rift Valley province are facing losses following heavy rainfall in the region. The farmers from Nakuru district fear a repeat of last year’s experience in the Mau Escarpment when hailstorms and flooding washed away big portions of wheat and barley plantations.

The Nakuru branch chairman of the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers, Mr Samuel Gitonga, predicted a fall in wheat production in the region by more than 40 per cent following the rains.

Large scale farmers say they cannot use combine harvesters on the farms as soaked wheat has fallen on the ground, making it difficult for the machines to pick it up. But leaving the crop on the farms is equally unwise. Gitonga said the few farmers who have managed to harvest the crop were incurring heavy costs in drying it.

Millers buy wheat with 14 per cent moisture content, while what the farmers are harvesting now contains 30 per cent moisture content.

“It means that a farmer is paying up to Sh320 ($4.80) per bag to dry the wheat,” Gitonga said. August and September are usually dry months, but this time round heavy rain has prevented most farmers from harvesting their crops. Gitonga said the country could soon experience an acute wheat shortage, as demand for the commodity on the international market has shot up following crop failure in leading European wheat producing countries, France and Germany.

A 90kg bag of wheat is currently going for Sh2,800 ($42) up from Sh1,800 ($27) last year as only few farmers have managed to harvest their crop due to the rains.

Middlemen are cashing in on the farmers’ plight, purchasing the produce at between Sh2,200 and Sh2,400 at the farm level. “The price of wheat flour will shoot up possibly by the end of the year as a bag of imported wheat will not cost less than Sh4,500,” he said. The country imports up to 75 per cent of wheat every year.

On the other hand, East African Malting Limited, which requires barley farmers to maintain stringent quality standards of their produce, has introduced a crop insurance cover for its contracted farmers in the region beginning next planting season. The move is meant to cushion them against natural hazards.

Business Daily Africa

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