Tough times ahead as maize crop wilts for lack of rain

The current dry spell in agriculturally rich counties of North Rift is projected to hit maize production by 20 per cent, adding to another problem of armyworm invasion that has threatened to cut the yields in this year’s crop.

Ministry of Agriculture director of crops Johnson Irungu says the grain basket counties of Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia have been hit by the lack of rain at a critical stage when the maize crop requires moisture for grain development.

“We are looking up to 20 per cent yield losses with the current situation. If it doesn’t rain soon, then it will be disastrous,” said Dr Irungu in an interview with the Business Daily.

The ministry forecasts harvests to be 20 per cent less than the projected 40 million 90-kg bags or 32 million — which is 5.1 million bags less than last year’s harvest of 37.1 million.

This will mark the second year in a row that production of the staple has declined, and points to worse food crisis next year compared to the ongoing maize crunch should Kenya not consider early imports next year.

The price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour jumped by nearly half to Sh150 in April from the similar period last year, prompting the introduction of a Sh6 billion subsidy that lowered the cost to Sh90.

Maize crop in the North Rift has reached the tussling stage where the cob requires rain to allow grain filling.

The erratic rain comes as the regions smart from the crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms that ravaged parts of North Rift, especially Trans-Nzoia.

The pest threatens production at a time when Kenya is battling effects of the drought that has pushed the cost of maize flour and other foods to record levels and driven up inflation to a five-year high of 11.70 per cent last month from 11.48 per cent in April.

Prices of food have become a political headache for President Uhuru Kenyatta as he seeks a second term in the August elections.

Kenya has become a maize-deficit country and relies on imports. It plans to import 2.9 million bags of maize in June and subsidise up to about five million bags until harvest time.

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