This past year has not been very friendly to farmers, with the rains continuing to be erratic disrupting the farming seasons.
In the past, farmers were assured that the heavy rains would start in March, continue through April and end in May. Similarly, the short rains period would begin in October and end in December.
The rest of the months would be used for land preparation and farm input assembly, planting, harvesting, storage and marketing. But with climate change effects unfolding, this harmonious farming pattern is gone.
This year promises not to be any different for farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture, they should be ready for the erratic weather patterns. However, there are more things – local and foreign – to look out for that are likely to affect the sector positively or negatively. They include Covid-19, trade wars, pest and diseases, cost of inputs, markets, labour, and elections.
In 2020 and 2021, local and international food trade was disrupted by the pandemic. However, despite the emergence of the new Omicron variant, it is projected that Covid-19 related disruptions will be minimal in 2022 and global trade will expand by 5.7 per cent. However, rising agricultural commodity prices are not expected to stabilise any time soon due to, among other things, disparity in Covid-19 vaccination coverage between countries.
Locally, we expect to see increased uptake of e-commerce services in the sector in response to emergence of new Covid-19 variants as well as restrictions that the government may institute to curb rising cases. Farmers need to take advantage of the channels to expand their market.
In 2010, the East African Community, which is made of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, and has a market of about 177 million people signed a comprehensive common market protocol, officially binding member states to open up their borders for free movement of goods, labour and capital across the region.
True to its commitment, in 2019, the bloc obtained the highest overall score for regional integration among all Africa’s trade blocs. This was based on ease of movement of people, infrastructure, macroeconomics and trade integration.
Such a big market increases the number of goods that a consumer can choose from, lowers market prices of the same goods due to competition and creates room for export. However, trade is predominantly a private business and sometimes governments implement measures that run counter to the integration obligations to safeguard their peoples’ interest.
Kenya in January last year banned the importation of milk and eggs from Uganda following protests by farmers who complained that they were being driven out of business. This led to a trade war with Uganda, which in retaliation slapped a ban on Kenya’s agricultural goods. Kenya has since lifted the ban on eggs, and we expect Uganda to reciprocate.
The country’s key agricultural exports to Uganda in 2020 were palm oil at Sh7.2 billion, sorghum (Sh1.4 billion), vegetables (Sh311 million) and legumes (Sh200 million). Kenya has also had a trade war with Tanzania, which it is working to resolve. The truth is, the trade wars are far from over and farmers are mainly the big casualties.
In August, Kenya is expected to hold its General Election in a transition that would see the country elect a new president.
But let us begin from the start. Pre-election periods are always characterised by heightened political activities that divert labour from agriculture. Thus, as campaigns pick up, farmers in March may find themselves paying higher to get farm labour as the youth concentrate on political activities.
The top candidates are making plenty of political promises – some which may affect policy direction in the sector if they win the polls. Thus, farmers need to listen keenly on the promises.
Further, poorly managed campaign periods can lead to conflicts of varying magnitudes, causing displacement of people, which affects farming activities.
Analysis of historical data indicates that climate variability has always affected agriculture. For example, last year’s long rains were below average in most parts of the country. Further, they were characterised by late onset, poor distribution and early or timely cessation. Timely, adequate and well-distributed rains will not only affect plant growth and production, but also influence the number and types of pests and diseases, as well as migratory patterns of the pastoralists.
Drier than normal conditions, especially in the arid and semi-arid (Asal) parts of the country, lead to water and pasture-related conflicts. Last year for example, deaths and theft of livestocks were reported in Isiolo, Tana Delta, Marsabit, Laikipia, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet.
Further, heavier than normal rains most of the times cause infrastructural destruction and upsurge of vector-borne diseases such as Rift Valley Fever (RVF), which cut into livestock production.
Although it is too early to predict the weather for the entire 2022, it is important to keenly lookout for early warning signs and the frequent meteorological weather forecasts are a good guide.
Disease and pests
In 2020, livestock disease control was hampered by the Covid-19 restriction measures of lockdowns and curfews. During that period, there was an increase of livestock ailments such as foot and mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD) in cattle. However, in 2021, massive vaccination campaigns were carried out to control most livestock diseases and their prevalence went down.
It is important to note that livestock diseases require booster vaccines thus it is time to do that. Currently, FMD and LSD have already been reported in some parts of the country.
Crops were not spared either, in 2020, the desert locusts and the fall army worm remained a threat, with the latter affecting thousands of maize farmers in Trans Nzoia, Baringo, West Pokot, Uasin Gishu, and Nandi counties. In 2021, these pests were largely controlled with Kenya remaining locust-free.
However, there are signs that locusts may re-emerge in the North, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation noting there is somebreeding underway along the northern border with Somalia.
Issues that are likely to affect inflow and outflow of agricultural goods and services in 2022 include commodity standards, a good example being that of the moisture content of maize whose high levels lead to aflatoxin contamination. Last year, Kenya blocked maize from Uganda and Tanzania due to aflatoxin fears.
Insecurity in the neighbouring countries, in particular Ethiopia, might affect goat-maize trade that is common in the North eastern counties and uptake of innovations and technologies with a good example being that of the latest one from Tanzania which produced the Tatu-moja vaccine.
The vaccine not only controls three poultry diseases (Newcastle, fowl pox and infectious coryza) at ago but also introduces application of fowl pox vaccine through the eye instead of the previous laborious injection method.
Implementation of policies such as the Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy 2018-2022; consumer prevalence in support of international treaties such as consumption of plant proteins to reduce use of animal products that are associated more with global warming and climate change and implementation of the Glasgow climate change support recommendations that intend to increase tree cover will also shape agriculture in 2022.