Home ECONOMY Livestock diseases and expensive tractors spell doom for farmers

Livestock diseases and expensive tractors spell doom for farmers

by biasharadigest

It was deep into the planting season, yet farms still lay unprepared in Kalwande village, Kisumu County.

In March last year, the oxen smallholder farmers traditionally use to plough their land were not available as most of the animals were down with illness.

There were no replacements because a quarantine had been slapped on livestock movement and markets in Kisumu and the neighbouring Siaya, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Nandi, Kericho, and Nyamira counties due to an outbreak of the highly contagious foot and mouth disease (FMD).

In western Kenya, land preparation conventionally starts in February — in time for planting, which coincides with the March-April-May long rains.

“Most farmers found themselves with unploughed fields in late March, which was very worrying. It has never happened before,” said Mr Maurice Oduor, a resident of Kalwande.

Most farmers rely on oxen to prepare their fields, therefore disease outbreak and incapacitation of draught animals spell doom for the farming communities here as it means there will be no food.

There are few options available to farmers. Manual labour, apart from being slow, is also not readily available. Many youths have taken up the boda boda (motorcycle taxis) business, which they perceive to be more prestigious and better paying.

“Most of the youth no longer work on farms because the job is low-paying and tedious. They prefer boda boda, which fetches better earnings and is less strenuous,” Mr John Onyango, a boda boda operator, told the Business Daily at Nyakwere market in Homa Bay.

Boda boda riders earn Sh900-Sh1,000 a day. Farm work fetches only Sh200.

Other youths have been absorbed into the region’s booming real estate and infrastructure sectors.

“Working as an unskilled casual construction worker fetches a minimum Sh400 to Sh650 a day, depending on whether you are in a rural or urban area. This is good money and many prefer this job to working long hours on the farm and earning peanuts,” said Mr Edwin Luvisa, a labourer at a construction site in Kisumu’s Mamboleo estate.

Faced with the prospect of losing a whole crop season in 2018, farmers turned to privately owned tractors to help prepare their land. But this option comes at a price.

“The private tractor service providers made a killing. Demand was high and so were their fees. People were paying them between Sh3,500 and Sh5,000 to plough an acre of land compared to the traditional Sh1,500 charged for ox-drawn services. It was painful, but we had to pay,” Mr Oduor said.

This year brought some relief for farmers and owners of ploughing oxen.

“The last two seasons have been bad. All my oxen contracted foot and mouth disease and could not work, so I lost money. I am glad things are now better,” said Mr Paul Aguyo, who was hard at work on a farm in Kalwande village, shouting at his yoke of four oxen to keep them steady as they pulled a freshly sharpened ripper through the loamy soil.

His optimism may, however, be short-lived because of persistent outbreaks of FMD in western Kenya.

By October last year, large swathes of Kisumu and neighbouring counties of Nandi, Siaya, Kericho, and Homa Bay counties were still under quarantine because of back-to-back outbreaks.

Most livestock markets in western Kenya have remained shut as authorities warn of further closures. On October 20, 2019, the department in charge of veterinary services announced further restrictions on livestock movement in Siaya and shut down all livestock markets in Gem and Alego Usonga as FMD continued to ravage the region.

The director of veterinary services said the quarantine would remain in force until the disease was contained.

The viral disease is highly contagious and affects cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. FMD is characterised by fever and blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

With persistent outbreak of livestock diseases and shortage of manual labour, farmers’ focus is shifting to tractor services.

Several county governments have acquired tractors and other machinery to assist farmers prepare their land at affordable rates. These include Kisumu, Siaya, Kitui, Uasin Gishu, Machakos, Makueni, Trans Nzoia, and Bungoma.

In Kisumu, farmers are charged a subsidised rate of Sh1,500 an acre. The market rate ranges between Sh3,500 and Sh4,000. The tractors include a rice reaper, rice thresher, several ploughs, and rotovators. In Siaya the tractor charges have been set at Sh1,000 an acre.

However, many farmers still have to hire the more expensive privately owned machines because the county tractors are not readily available.

“Getting access to the government-owned tractors remains a major headache for farmers. In many cases, despite making a booking, the tractors don’t reach the farmers. The cash is refunded instead, which isn’t helpful because it affects planning,” Mr Edwin Okech from Bondo sub-county complained.

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