Frostbite, heavy rains, and dry spell are some of the hostile weather conditions that farmers in Kenya have experienced in recent months.
The adverse weather effects that are alternating in quick succession have become a thorn in the flesh of farmers, hurting the production of crops meant for both the local and export markets.
Multiple interviews with farmers paint a picture of a lot gripped in a dilemma, some on the brink of giving up as the weather changes caused by climate change persist.
Years ago, the weather was easy to predict and so were planting, disease control, and harvesting.
One was thus assured that they would plant and harvest their crops without interference from the weather.
But that period is gone – for good – if the adverse weather changes in the East African nation are anything to go by.
“I am about to start harvesting my maize but the weather may not allow me to do the job with peace because it is raining at a time when it should be dry,” Geoffrey Ambuche, said a farmer in Kitale, Kenya’s breadbasket.
Over the years, Kenya has been having two rain patterns, between March and May and October to December, according to the meteorological department. This allowed farmers to plant, wait for their crops to grow, harvest, and dry.
“It is raining currently when the crop is ready for harvest, which means the produce risks rotting or aflatoxin attack. These weather changes are presenting very hard challenges,” said Ambuche.
Kenya produces an average of 40 million 90 kg bags of maize annually, according to the Ministry of Agriculture but with the adverse weather changes, the harvest is not assured.
Other farmers badly affected by the erratic weather are those growing tomatoes, onions, capsicum, and potatoes.
“For the last three years, I have been battling to save my tomatoes from blight but this year has been the worst because the cold spell has been long,” said George Karithi, a farmer in Kitengela on the south of Nairobi.
Karithi noted that instead of producing five tons from his half-acre, the erratic weather pushes it to two or three.
Kenya’s export crops like tea, coffee, and French beans have equally been hit harder, with the adverse weather effects slowing down production.
For the Kenyan tea, production declined in July by 9.82 million kilos, according to the Tea Directorate, after cold weather engulfed growing areas in Central and the Rift Valley regions. This has been the trend for the past years.
“There has been a significant drop in output of tea in most growing areas due to continued cold weather conditions coupled with declining amounts of rainfall,” said the directorate in its latest report of the sector.
In tea growing areas of the Rift Valley, temperatures between May and July fell to an average of 12 degrees Celsius, according to the agency, which not only affected tea growth but also picking.
The directorate painted a gloomy production picture in the coming months. “The remaining period of the year is expected to register much lower production on account of cold weather conditions followed by dry weather period,” it said.
Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro consultancy, noted that the erratic weather is currently the biggest challenge to the attainment of food security in Kenya.
“Farmers have to dig deeper into their pockets to fight attendant diseases and pests and losses arising from things like floods; some manage, others lose. Planning the cropping season has also become difficult,” she said.