Kenyan farmers sigh with relief as rains promise harvest

When the first few drops of rainfall descended upon Rosaline Njeri’s farm at a serene village in the upper-eastern Kenya county of Embu, a feeling of relief and elation washed over her.

Before the onset of rains in late March, her village was converted by an acute drought into a rolling expanse of dust and dried vegetation.

The prolonged dry spell had parched her farm, depriving her of sufficient food and a source of income consequently forcing her to harvest and sell Rhodes grass, an unusual undertaking for women in the village.

“Selling grass is the ultimate symbol of desperation for those who do it on a small scale, and especially for women in this region. It is something that pays poorly for those harvesting from small patches of land,” Njeri told Xinhua during a recent interview at her farm. “I began cutting grass last year when the short rains failed.

The grass was dry and harsh on the hands. And you only get paid 130 shillings (about 0.96 U.S. dollars) for a bale which is then used to make hay for livestock. I managed two bales per day.”

Njeri is just one among many farmers in the country who were pushed to adopt desperate measures to withstand a drought that had plunged 4.4 million Kenyans into food insecurity, killed 2.6 million livestock, and malnourished at least 970,000 children aged 6-59 months, according to the National Drought Management Authority.

With the commencement of the March-April-May rains, a crucial rainfall season in the country, Kenyans hope that the rainfall will reverse the excessive loss of food, livestock, and other effects precipitated by the drought.

According to agricultural scientist Stephen Mugo, rain distribution will play a crucial role in determining whether Kenya will see a reverse of the effects of the drought.

“If it is short (rainfall) the main benefits will be on free range grazing livestock feeds and short duration crops including legumes and vegetables. A longer-lasting rainfall season will benefit long-duration crops like cereals,” Mugo said.

Paul Wandui, a middle-aged farmer who hails from Njeri’s neighboring village, works diligently to weed out some weeds that have ringed his ankle-length beans. He said the intensity of the rains is much more subdued compared to past years.

“Our region receives moderate rainfall which allows for subsistence farming and keeping of livestock. When the rains do not come, our income is affected because we are not given farming jobs in people’s farms and our farms do not produce enough food for consumption,” Wandui said.

Memories of parched land have now inspired Wandui to plant drought-tolerant crops like green grams alongside beans to expand his food basket.

In its seasonal rainfall forecast for the March-April-May period, the Kenya Meteorological Department notes that rainfall will be below average in most parts of the country including the Lake Victoria Basin, Coastal region, and South-eastern lowlands.

Judy Matu, the chairperson of the Association of Women in Agriculture, a non-profit that empowers women, youth, and the vulnerable with agricultural and climate intervention, registered her optimism.

“We look forward to a good harvest to maximize on the downpour. I urge people to harvest rainwater and utilize technologies that retain water in the soil so that even in the dry season, the soils can sustain growth,” Matu said.

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