Since 2006, the rains in Kenya’s eastern province have become less reliable. The March and April rains arrive later, and the season is much shorter. In 2008, there were only four days of rain. People living here rely on seasonal rivers to provide water for irrigation, livestock and domestic uses but these have mostly dried up, leading to water and food shortages.
In Kyuso, a village in Eastern Province, many farmers’ crops have failed due to the lack of rain. Even millet, which is drought resistant and among the most commonly grown crops in the area, failed in 2008. Livestock farmers also suffer because there is not enough fodder or water for all their animals. But they are reluctant to sell animals as the prices have been very low since the end of 2008.
As recently as 2005, though there was inadequate rainfall the farmers harvested a lot of green grams, millets and some maize. Farmers sold their surplus produce which includes Green gram and Maize to Kenya’s Grain and Cereal Board Distribution Centre in Kyuso at Kshs 35 and kshs17per kilogram respectively. The kyuso residents sold millet to the local markets at kshs17 per kilogram since the cereal and produce board didn’t order for it. But due to the failure of crops locally, people now have to buy food at very high prices.
A one kilogram bag of maize flour cost 20 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) in July 2008; by March 2009, the price had increased to 70 Ksh. This was due to both to extended drought in this area and the political turmoil that affected the country as a whole in the early 2008. Most of the maize in Kyuso is imported from South Africa, and thus it is more expensive.
In March 2009, the Centre was selling 500 bags of maize per day to 300households from Ngomeni, Kyuso, Tseikuru and Mumoni divisions. The Distribution Center does not stock millet despite the fact that it is the major crop grown in the area due to lack of permission/order from the National Cereals and Produce Board Headquarters. This was rationed to ensure supplies did not run out. Even if the supply were to improve, very poor people would still find it unaffordable.
The combination of declining production and the limited access and affordability of imported food means the region’s food security has declined. This has had several negative impacts on people’s lives. Some have to walk over 20 kilometers to reach Kyuso to buy grain and livestock keepers have to trek even further in search of fodder and water for their animals. This means they have less time for other work, reducing opportunities to earn an income.
Many farmers are struggling to adapt to the changing climate. Joseph Meithya Kasawla, a 57 year old farmer from Kyuso, believes that people think only traditional crops such as maize grow in the region. These no longer do well with the increasingly poor rains, but many farmers are unaware that crops such as cowpeas would survive better in the drier conditions. Farmers also lack theseeds which are a critical farming input. However, some farmers are adapting by switching to fruit crops, particularly mangoes (see side bar).
The experiences in Kyuso are relevant to areas facing similar challenges:
· Farmers need information about switching to drought tolerant and fast maturing crops, and access to seeds
· It is important to promote water harvesting and demonstrate different techniques
· The storage of grain during bumper harvests is vital to provide enough food in poor seasons; processing this surplus can also add value and avoid wastage.
· Grain distribution centres, markets and local farmers can all help to improve the supply of seeds of promising cereal crops, so that people take advantage of the good seasons wherever they occur