After cutting his maize crop mid-November, farmer Benson Andabwa, who is based in Kitale, western Kenya, stacked the crop on the farm and left it there to dry.

It is an age-old practice that farmers in the East African nation rely on to dry their maize.

The stacked maize normally stays on the farm for up to three weeks, before farmers remove it, then shell it for further drying.

For years, this practice has worked for Andabwa and millions of other maize farmers across the East African.

But ongoing heavy rains in Kenya have disrupted the maize drying tradition, worsening farmers’ post-harvest challenges.

“Some of my maize is rotting on the farm because of the heavy rains. I have managed to harvest the produce on one farm, but I have been unable to reach the other one that is closer to a river due to impassable roads,” he said on phone on Saturday.

His predicament is shared by millions of other farmers across the east African nation.

The unlucky ones have had their produce washed away by floods or the farms are flooded as the lucky ones struggle to dry the produce amid rains and little sun.

Most farmers in Kenya rely on the sun to dry their grains since they do not have artificial dryers.

The farmers, therefore, usually need about a month of dry weather for the maize to dry and have the recommended 13 percent moisture content.

“This year farmers planted in May due to delayed rains instead of March. Most of them have been harvesting in November, instead of the normal September. This is the reason the rains have caught up with them,” said Bernard Moina, an agriculture officer in Trans Nzoia, western Kenya.

Moina observed that a good number of farmers in the breadbasket region will lose their harvest due to post-harvest challenges.

“I have visited several farmers and they are either struggling to remove their maize from the farms or dry. The situation is worse because the roads are impassable making farmers rely on manual labor,” he said.

Kenya had projected to harvest some 44 million 90 kg bags of the staple this season but with the rains which will heighten post-harvest losses, coupled with fall armyworm attack and a dry spell early in the year, chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Andrew Tuimur estimated the harvest would drop to 33 million bags.

However, besides maize farmers, the rainy season is posing great challenges to vegetable, potato, tomato, fruits and onion growers as well as traders of the produce.

The farmers, especially those growing cabbages and onions, are selling them at throwaway prices to avoid losses due to lack of proper post-harvest storage facilities.

A kilo of tomatoes is currently going for as low as 40 shillings ( about 0.40 U.S. dollars) at a time it should be going for at least 0.60 dollars as the peak festive season approaches.

Traders of fresh produce are similarly incurring losses as tomatoes and onions spoil faster due to storage challenges occasioned by the heavy rains that are hitting 50 mm to 100 mm a day in some areas, according to the Meteorological Department.

With no cold storage facilities in markets, produce is rotting faster with traders throwing it away.

A spot check at Wakulima market in Nairobi’s central business district on Saturday revealed that the traders are recording an increase in spoilt produce due to dampness.

A dumpsite at the market is littered with tomatoes, onions and fruits among other produce that is rotting away, and so is the situation at the nearby Muthurwa market and at Kitengela market south of the capital.

“Post-harvest storage of produce is always a challenge to farmers. The rains have worsened the problem and farmers and traders are paying the heavy price for lack of storage facilities or skills to add value to fruits or tomatoes to curb losses,” said Beatrice Machakos of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

She noted that the rise in post-harvest losses poses food security challenges to the country in the coming months.

Kenya loses up to 30 percent of all its produce after harvesting, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Enditem


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