Kenya’s maize production may not be severely affected by the Fall Armyworm infestation in the Western Region as earlier predicted.
Trans Nzoia County Agriculture Officer Mary Nzomo says interventions made by the government to contain the worm in the region aided recovery of the crop by a majority of farmers.
The Trans Nzoia County is expecting to harvest 4.8 million bags of maize this season, a 9 percent drop from the projected 5.3 million bags.
With the country’s maize production averaging between 35 million bags and 40 million bags annually according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), any negative factors would lead to a reduction, affecting the country’s grain reserve.
The infestation by the Fall Armyworm especially in major maize producing regions in Western Kenya and North Rift brought uncertainties as to whether the country’s food basket would survive the attack considering Kenya had just come out of a drought that led to maize shortage.
While there had been preliminary reports that maize harvests especially in Trans Nzoia County, one of Kenya’s largest maize producing regions, would reduce by almost 40 percent, new findings indicate the situation is not as bad as projected earlier.
“We were expecting a loss of about 30 percent in this County alone, but from our findings only about 500,000 bags of maize will be lost to the invasion. It is however still a loss because by the time we acquired the chemicals the worms had already damaged crops, but it will not be as big a loss as we had earlier anticipated”, says Ms. Mary Nzomo, Trans Nzoia County Agriculture Officer.
This has been supported by interventions by the government to contain the worm which has seen most farmers salvage the crop and anticipate a good harvest. Nzomo says the county also has surplus maize from last year’s harvest which should cover the deficit if any.
“As a County, we responded swiftly to manage the situation at the time, farmers were educated on how to use pesticides and other traditional methods to contain the spread of the Fall Armyworms and stop further damage to crops”, adds Ms. Nzomo
But while the overall harvest in the county looks good, individual farmers are not smiling. Mr. Joram Njuguna, a farmer in Kitale, says the infestation from the Fall Armyworm has left him with a harvest of about 700 bags of maize from his 40 acres, compared to about 900 bags that he would harvest in good conditions.
“I had planted in good time, but bad rains saw my maize crop drying up, I planted a second time only for my farm to be invaded by these worms. I don’t think I am going to harvest as much as I would want but it is still not very bad”, notes Njuguna
Another farmer in the region, Edward Kairu, who had planted 50 acres of maize, says he is pessimistic of any harvest since his entire crop was affected by the pest and poor weather.
“When it rains the worms reduce and the maize looks good, but immediately it stops raining, the worms get back to their trail of destruction. It is not looking good for me this harvest season”, laments Kairu.
This is however not the case for Mary Ngugi who says despite her maize being affected by the pest, she managed to recover her crop due to the interventions by Trans Nzoia County agricultural officers and is therefore expecting a bumper harvest.
“When the agricultural officers came to my farm they taught me how to deal with the worms. I have followed their instructions to the latter, and from what I can see, I will have a relatively good harvest despite the challenges we experienced in this region”, notes Ms. Ngugi.
Even as scientists continue to research the solution to the Fall Armyworm, farmers are coming to terms with the reality that getting rid of the worm currently is not an option as it is resistant to most of the pesticides available in the market. They are however hoping the government will put in place more measures to contain the worm to alleviate the effects in future planting seasons.
For Trans Nzoia County, Nzomo says in order to avert similar challenges in the future, she has drafted a bill that will be presented to the County Assembly aimed at controlling planting of maize off season which she says acts as a host to the pest before the planting season.
“We also want to ban movement of plant material. For instance, this year we were having green maize coming from areas where the Fall Armyworm was first reported, which could have been hosting larvae that was just waiting to hatch, making the situation worse”, she adds.
Shortage of maize in the country earlier this year due to drought led to a hike in the price of Unga, which saw the government allow importation of duty free maize to bridge the deficit and consequently reduce the prices of maize flour.
The Ministry of Agriculture had earlier indicated that the maize harvests expected from the current season would lessen the burden on importation. Importation of duty free maize is expected to end September 30th after the National Treasury extended the deadline from July to September.
Nationally, there is a projection of a 20 percent drop in maize harvest this year to about 28 million bags, down from the 37 million bags that were harvested last year. The government is however yet to give official figures on where the country stands as far as the current maize reserves in the country is concerned.