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Kenyan farmers count losses as weather
shifts from one extreme to another

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- A majority of crop farmers in Kenya are counting losses as the country’s weather oscillates from one extreme to another.

The worst affected are potato and tomato farmers as the two crops are highly sensitive to weather changes, especially when grown in the open field.

Many parts of the East African nation are currently experiencing an unusually cold weather.

The cold weather has followed a season of more than normal rainfall that led to deaths of livestock and destruction of property, including crops.

In the past years, the cold weather affected mainly Nairobi, central and parts of Rift Valley.

However, this time round, areas that are semi-arid or usually have warm weather and where tomatoes grow well have been hit by the cold weather, with temperatures in some areas declining to 3 degrees celsius, according to the Meteorological Department.

And those areas that are normally colder where potato production takes place have extremely low temperatures.

The extreme weather conditions have led to rise in diseases that include blight, bacterial wilt and root-knot nematodes, affecting production.

Pests like white flies, caterpillars and aphids have also found the weather conducive, compounding problems for farmers.

"The extreme change in weather pattern is making farming harder.

"In my many years of farming, I have never seen something like this," Abel Kariuki, a tomato farmer in Kajiado on the outskirts of Nairobi, said Tuesday.

The semi-arid county has in the recent years turned to be a tomato growing area, with many farmers growing the crop under irrigation.

Kariuki had a good season from August last year to February before the long rain season set in.

Thereafter, his crop has been affected by bacterial wilt, spread through rainwater, and blight due to low temperatures.

"I have used a lot of money on pesticides in bid to save my crop. I have to spray weekly to fight blight but still, I haven’t won the war," he said.

He added that so far he has lost about 40 percent of his tomatoes to blight.

"I have orders currently but I can’t supply because of the disease.

"As farmers, we are hopping from one crisis to another and it’s all because of the erratic weather pattern," he said.

In Nyeri and Nyandarua, which are potato growing areas, some farmers harvested zilch from their farms last season in May.

The lucky ones, however, have harvested smaller potatoes that have low market value.

"We have been having challenges before but this year it has been worse because a majority of farmers harvested nothing.

"I spent about 400 U.S. dollars to grow my potatoes but only harvested five sacks from an acre, down from the 15 in the past," said Samson Ndung’u, a farmer in Nyeri.

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization has partly blamed potato farmers’ losses in the region to bacterial wilt, nematodes and blight,amid cold weather.

The diseases were mainly due to heavy rains and low temperatures in the region.

"Bacterial wilt spreads rapidly from one farm to another during rainy season due to surface runoff.

"On the other hand, blight is caused by low temperatures which makes the leaves turn brown and eventually the crop dies," explained Bernard Moina, a crops officer in western Kenya.

Moina blamed the challenges farmers are currently facing to climate change, noting Kenya has been hit harder due to human activities that include intense logging and industrial pollution.

The agriculture officer further noted to eliminate nematodes, the soil must be solarized to kill the bacteria.

"Blight and bacterial wilt are the biggest enemies of potatoes and tomatoes.

"The extreme weather changes have worsened the plight of farmers," he said.

Prices of the two produce in the Kenyan market have risen significantly due to low production in the last months.

Kenyans are currently buying a single tomato for up to 0.20 dollars and a small tin of potatoes at a dollar from half the price.



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