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    Farmers working to save last crop before El nino rain falls

    The world already produces enough food to feed at least 10b people, according to a 2012 report by the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. But the World Bank estimates that almost a quarter of all food produced each year, is lost under different circumstances. This amount of food can feed an extra one billion people according to International Food Policy Research Institute.

    And recently, the world gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to launch the Sustainable Development Goals, during which meeting a resolution to completely eliminate poverty and hunger was arrived at.

    Among the key conclusions from the meeting included measures to ensure more food production. But this resolve is set to encounter its first real challenge: the impending El Nino rains, which the weatherman predicts to be worse than that of 2009-10 which killed many, and rendered the world food insecure.

    As Kenya curiously waits for the first drop of the rains-announced to fall any time from now-to hit the ground, maize farmers from Rift Valley and the Western region of the country are busy harvesting their premature maize crop, ostensibly to grab a few combs before the rains.

    These two regions form Kenya’s bread basket, and produce a combined 2.5tonnes, of maize representing almost 70 per cent of what the country produces, according to the National Cereals and Produce Board.

    While the premature harvesting of maize-the country’s staple food- presents early signs of food insecurity, the question is what farmers can do with their yield to minimize the injurious effects of early harvesting.  

    The current market price of a 115kg bag of green maize in most Kenya’s wholesale markets is between Sh2000-2500. While various people around the country make a variety of delicacies from green maize, its demand is relatively low compared to dry maize, which is ground to make flour. A 90kg bag of dry maize goes for between 2500-3000. In addition, green maize is bulky and perishable hence not preferred commercially.

    Yet, even the few farmers who managed to harvest dried maize are not safe because as they deal with post harvest challenges. The East African Grain Council estimates that Kenya loses Sh3b annually in post-harvest challenges, most of which are brought about by poor drying and storage techniques. The looming El-Nino downpour will not make things any better as it promises to make the drying of grains a challenge.

    But there is respite, coming from non-state agency, Acdivoca, who recently launched a  locally-developed drying machine, with the ability to dry half a tonne of grain in four hours to the required 13.5 per cent moisture content. The drier which is made locally and cost Sh125, 000 according to Sophie Walker, the Chief of Party at Acdivoca is among the few innovations agricultural stakeholders can depend on to counter the ravages of post harvest waste, which is estimated to be 1.3b tonnes globally by FAO.

    Last year, for instance, most maize farmers in the North Rift were unable to sell their produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPD) after a heavy rainfall kept their grains soggy. Their produce did not have the moisture content required by the NCPB, which buys maize at moisture content of 13.5.

    Meanwhile, the East Africa Grain Council has partnered with various stakeholders including Post Harvest Limited to assist maize farmers in Rift Valley and Western Kenya quickly harvest and dry their crops.

    The Council's Regional Communication Manager Janet Ngombalu, says they have managed to mobilize farmers in those regions into groups, provided commercial harvesting tractors and given them special storage bags.

    This is as Post Harvest Limited provides them with latest grain drying technology. She said that their effort is to minimize cases of aflatoxin which usually affect close to 30 per cent of grains harvested yearly.'' We have offered our members fast harvesting and drying technology to minimize those cases.  

    She, however, said that the Council lacks the capacity to reach all farmers before the rains and has urged the government and other stakeholders to chip in and rescue maize farmers from possible losses.

    It is worrying for most farmers that the state isnot doing much to shield them from the possible disastrous effects of the rains, which are already sweeping parts of Europe, Africa and America.


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