Expert Advocating For Increased Investment In Driers

The county governments have been asked to assist farmers with driers, especially at this time when the Meteorological Department has warned of heightened rains in the next few months.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger said this year the country is experiencing a bumper maize harvest, but it can be lost because of the heavy rains that will be experienced in the months of October and November.

Last week, the Director of the Meteorological Department, Dr. David Gikungu, issued a warning about the likelihood of El Niño rainfall occurring in the country between October and December 2023.

He explained that during this period, the country will experience heightened rainfall as well as the potential for flooding and landslides in certain regions of the country, so it is important for relevant government agencies and also county governments to mitigate this.

In an interview Monday, even as climate experts from Africa are meeting in the country, Dr. Kireger said farmers, especially those in Western and whose maize is harvested from October- November, can experience losses because of the rains and also experience maize contamination due to aflatoxin because of not drying well.

‘Under normal circumstances, maize should be dried to 13 per cent moisture content to avoid rotting and aflatoxin contamination. But, with the heavy rains, farmers cannot dry the maize due to lack of dryers,’ he said, adding that if the rains come as predicted by MET, the country and farmers might be in danger, hence the reason for investing in dryers.

‘You might find that in the eastern parts where they are expecting the short rains, it might be a blessing for them, but the same rains might be a disaster for the western areas of the country because that is when farmers are supposed to be harvesting their crops,’ he said.

Storage, Dr. Kireger noted, is also a challenge, and most farmers do not have adequate storage, and some dry their maize in open spaces. The maize needs to be dried before storage, and with the rains here and the farmers used to drying in open spaces, this might not work out,’ he said.

Dr. Kireger says this kind of extreme rainfall, or el nino is also a result of climate change.

He thus called upon the African Climate Summit stakeholders attending the summit in Kenya to increase funding for climate smart technologies, saying this will help farmers adapt to the changing climate.

‘Due to climate change, researchers have had to reorganise breeding to get varieties that are resistant to emerging pests and diseases, and therefore African leaders and policymakers need to relook at various changes that come about due to climate change as it is changing and will continue to change,’ he said.

More funding directed towards research, he said, will assist since a lot of crop varieties that have been developed over time need to be re-engineered as they were bred for the prevailing conditions at that time.

‘We have to continue breeding to adapt to the current conditions of climate change. The weather patterns are changing, with some areas receiving more rainfall than they used to; there are also new emerging pests and the warming of the environment,’ Dr. Kireger said.

He gave an example where a researcher will breed a plant that traditionally will be ready in four months for the middle altitude areas or six months for the low altitude areas, but due to climate change, he explained, one has to adapt breeding to suit that specific environment.

The DG emphasised the essence of climate smart agriculture, which he said is to develop crop varieties that are climate smart, are able to escape drought by maturing early, and are pest and disease resistant.

‘Here in Kenya, pests such as the fall armyworm, the maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND), and even white flies never used to be a problem in the country, but due to climate change they have become more vigilant,’ Dr. Kireger said.

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit has been officially opened by President William Ruto, who said Africa has witnessed a one-third reduction in agricultural productivity due to climate change, a stark reminder of the urgent need for adaptation.

Source: Kenya News Agency