Eunice Kerubo an indigenous vegetable farmers picks black night shade (managu) in her Nkararo farm Narok County on 6/3/2018.Most farmers in the region have embraced irrigation which they constantly supply to the neighboring town (Sammy Omingo/Standard)
No drop of rain has fallen in Utawala estate on the outskirts on Nairobi since the onset of the short rains.
Even then, Peter Irungu, a poultry farmer, is doing everything possible in anticipation of the rains already ongoing in most parts of the country.
The first thing Irungu, who keeps chicken, ducks and pigeons did was to vaccinate the birds against diseases that usually come with rains and the cold season.
“The moment I heard that some places had started receiving the rains, I vaccinated all my birds and put them on vitamins. I don’t want to expose them to diseases when it starts raining in this place,” said Irungu.
Additionally, he plans to keep the birds indoors to prevent them from getting infected due to the cold. He plans to invest in lamps that will keep the chicken area which has a capacity of 4,000 birds lit and heated all time that it will be raining. This, he says, will keep diseases such as fowl pox, pneumonia and worm infestation at bay.
But for the diseases, Irungu hopes to reap big from the ducks when it starts raining. This is because of the birds’ inherent liking of the water bodies such as the small ponds that form when it rains.
“My ducks have always been active when it rains. I allow them to walk in the little ponds and eat whatever little organisms they pick in the water. As a result they lay a lot of eggs during the rainy season,” he says.
Irungu is not the only farmer who has everything set for the ongoing October-November-December (OND) short rains.
From preparing land for quick maturing crops and installing water harvesting equipment to harvest as much water as possible for irrigated farms, farmers are doing everything necessary to take advantage of the rains. Still, others are vaccinating their poultry and livestock against foreseen diseases that come with floods and the cold season.
This week, Smart Harvest explores different ways you can take advantage of the short rains before January which is two months away.
Grow quick maturing crops
Mr Jeremiah Mbugua, an Extension Expert at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) says at this time, farmers looking to grow crops should have already prepared their land and should be planting.
“It may be late for farmers who have not already prepared their lands for farming because it may not be raining for long. By now, any farmer who is targeting the short rains for planting should already have prepared their land,” says Mbugua.
Additionally, quick maturing crops are bound to do well this season, according to the JKUAT extension officer. These include vegetables and potatoes that take just about three months to mature. He says holes for planting should also be done near the surface to ensure seeds make use the little rain water.
“The holes should not be more than two centimeters deep. If they are dug too deep, the seeds may not get enough water to germinate and will rot in the soil because the rain will not fall for a long time,” he says.
According to Dr Jane Ambuko, a horticulturist and post harvest expert at the University of Nairobi (UoN) farmers need to plant vegetables not just because they don’t take long to mature but also because they will be in high demand after the short rains.
“Farmers should plant leafy vegetables and tomatoes which don’t have serious water related issues after their initial critical developmental stages. The vegetables will also fetch them a lot of money during the December festivities and in January when it will be dry,” says Dr Ambuko.
She urges farmers who harvest vegetables in plenty to dry them when the market is flooded and to sell them when they will be scarce.
Livestock and poultry diseases to look out for
Dr George Ondieki, a veterinary officer working in Lamu urges farmers to be on the lookout for livestock diseases that come with rains and the consequent floods and cold.
He says that during flooding, there is an increase in mosquitoes that cause the rift valley fever in cattle, sheep and goats when they bite them. The fever is also transmitted to humans when they come into contact with the infected animals.
The rapid growth of pastures because of the rains, according to the government vet, will provide a breeding point for worms which are deadly to kids and lambs.
“Worms lay eggs in the fresh pastures which are dangerous when consumed by kids and lambs and get to their intestines. The worms may not pose a serious problem in grown livestock as in lambs and kids which are more susceptible because their systems are not well developed to fight the worms,” says Dr Ondieki.
This is also the season, according to Dr Ondieki, that tsetse fly populations increase. Tsetse flies are known to cause trypanosomiasis to both humans and their animals. Also referred to as sleeping sickness, the condition is marked by grave symptoms such as confusion, slurred speech, seizures and difficulty in walking and talking. In cattle, the affected animal wastes away if not treated.
He says by extension, the rains result in conflicts when pastures grow.
“The rains will encourage a rapid growth of pastures and some farmers may be encouraged to stop zero grazing and allow their livestock to roam freely in search of the free pastures. There may be conflict when livestock wander away and destroy other people’s crops,” he says.
Poor housing in the case of poultry farmers may lead to losses when the chicks catch cold.
If the chicken structure has no roof, the chicken are rained on, according to Dr Ondieki. This causes pneumonia especially where the farmer is rearing chicks. Additionally, space within the structure gets damp and encourages breeding of disease causing bacteria.
He urges poultry farmers to invest in additional heating facilities for their breeding spaces. Where a charcoal jiko is used, he urges farmers to ensure the space is well ventilated.
Minimise losses during the rainy season
Most losses that farmers suffer during the rainy season arise from logistical issues of poor transportation and perishability due to the cold weather.
According to Dr Ambuko, farmers who don’t have proper drying systems in place may experience post-harvest losses especially after they harvest crops that need to be dried.
“The biggest challenge to farmers who are currently harvesting maize is getting enough heat to dry their maize. As it is, such farmers as those in Lugari will suffer many losses because their maize will not dry well,” she says.
According to the horticulture and postharvest expert, farmers only dry their maize for a short time yet the grains need to be dried properly before they are stored to avoid contamination of aflatoxin.
It is also not a good time to harvest perishable produce, especially those that have to be transported from far flung areas where roads are in a bad condition as this, according to Dr Ambuko, may result in a 100 per cent loss.
Invest in water harvesting technologies
Dr James Messo, a water researcher at JKUAT says rainfall in many parts of the country can be considered a blessing if harvested and stored for later use.
“Over the last one week, many parts of Kenya have recorded very high rainfall amounts during this period of short rains. We can only hope that some of this water is harvested for use when it will be much needed the moment drought sets in,” says Dr Messo.
The JKUAT engineer observes that there are quite a number of simple rainwater technologies that can be used to harvest water when it rains. These include dams that control surface runoff, investing in rooftop tanks as well as wells.
“If you go to Makueni, you will not believe how dams have transformed the lives of farmers. Farmers who have invested in dams can now grow crops all year round even in the absence of rain. This is because they harvest enough water to sail them through the dry seasons,” says Dr Messo.
For instance, Peter Mutunga farm’s in Kyanziu village in Makueni relies on 130,000-litre water-harvesting system he installed a while back and this also supplies the family’s water needs throughout the year.
Another farmer, Thomas Kyalo, whose 20-year-old orchard sits on 15 acres of land has constructed a pond which holds 220,000 litres of rainwater which is used to irrigate the oranges, mangoes and avocadoes in the orchard.
The technology, dubbed ‘Wire Rope Pump’ is the brainchild of Joshua Kituu, a JKUAT graduate. To construct a pond that can hold up to 50,000 litres of water, it would cost a farmer Sh100,000.
The technology involves collecting rainwater from the gutters and directing it into a pond that is usually covered to keep water clean even for domestic use.