Dwindling farm acreage risks Taita Taveta's food security

 A herder blocks his cattle to give way to elephants at Choke ranch in Taita Taveta County. The ongoing drought has made livestock and wildlife share water in the local ranches.

Photo credit: Liucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

A rainfall assessment report has raised the alarm over the shrinking size of farming land in Taita Taveta as drought continues to ravage the county. 

According to the 2022 March-May long rains and food and nutrition security assessment report by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), the poor performance of rains has resulted in a 47-75 per cent reduction in the area under maize, cowpeas and green grams, causing concerns over food security in the area.

The report indicates that most parts of the county experienced depressed rains in the March-May season.

"It is expected that maize production would fall below the long-term average by 95 per cent [and] that of cowpeas and green grams by 82 per cent," stated the report. 

County NDMA coordinator Gabriel Mbogho blamed erratic weather for the situation, saying that most farmers had reduced their crop farming activities as they could no longer harvest anything from their farms for subsistence. 

He said the failure of rains in four consecutive seasons had greatly aggravated food insecurity in the county. 

"Tired of struggling against the lack of rainfall caused by the effects of climate change, some farmers have decided to abandon crop farming altogether," he said.

The decline in farming activities in Taita Taveta has affected food security for residents. The late onset and early end of rains resulted in farmers not planting, seeds not germinating and crops wilting. 

Mr Mbogho said that because residents did not harvest from their farms, they will now rely on food aid from well-wishers for survival. He decried soaring prices of commodities, especially maize, cooking oil and fuel.

"The current food insecurity situation is attributed to poor performance of rains in the county. Farmers in the county wholly rely on rainfall for planting," he said.

The report also shows that the county is in a crisis phase as over 75,000 residents are food-insecure.

Nation.Africa established that a kilo of maize was trading at an average of Sh70 at local markets. 

"High malnutrition rates were also reported in various health facilities in the rain-fed lowlands of the county," Mr Mbogho said. 

To mitigate the situation, the government has started working with partners to supply water to residents.

Over 3,300 households will also receive Sh3,000 monthly from the national government to support their food needs.

The drought is also likely to increase human-wildlife conflict in Taita Taveta due to diminishing water sources and forage.

"Wildlife will likely be forced to move from the park in search of water and pasture, leading to increased conflict," Mr Mbogho said.

In Kishushe, for example, the non-governmental organisation ActionAid Interphase has started distributing water to locals after elephants damaged the only water point in the area, leaving residents with nowhere to fetch the commodity. 

Residents said they had tried to repair the pipes and tanks that were destroyed but elephants kept coming to the area, causing more damage. 

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said recently that the government would construct 13 water pans in the Tsavo park to mitigate the situation. 

He had said Kenya lost 78 elephants in nine months between July 2021 and April this year due to drought in the Tsavo ecosystem.