Since the lapse of fuel subsidies after the advent of the new government, irrigation activities along the Sabaki-Galana River in Malindi have come to a halt because of the high cost of fuel.
The high fuel prices have forced small-scale farmers to cultivate smaller portions of land only for subsistence.
Farmers along the river who solely depend on water generators to grow crops for sale and produce food for their families have been grappling with the high cost of petrol, which is sold as much as Sh200 per litre in their nearest shopping centers.
Residents of Katsuhanzala village led by Justin Kazungu, said they can hardly afford the fuel leaving them with no option but to abandon part of their farms.
When journalists visited Kazungu, a father of three children, he was preparing to irrigate his maize crops. He had only a little amount of petrol left to fuel his generator. He was supposed to finish the irrigation exercise he had started the previous day but stopped after the generator ran out of fuel.
Kazungu revealed that he had spent Sh600 to fill his 3-litre water generator tank by barely half of the fuel he could afford a few months ago.
He said together with his brothers they used to cultivate over two acres of land each when the fuel was affordable, but currently they can only farm less than a quarter of an acre each.
Kazungu said the one acre of land under irrigation was a contribution of small portions owned by the four brothers in his family, each cultivating according to his ability to afford petrol.
“A few months ago, when there was a relief in the price of fuel, I used to cultivate a large field of about four acres, but now the acreage has reduced because of the cost of fuel. It is difficult to cultivate a large piece of land at this point what with the unbearable high prices of fuel,” he said.
In a solemn recount of grim events, Kazungu revealed that he is going through a hard time bringing up his family because he has been overwhelmed by famine whose effects are made worse by the high prices of petrol, maize flour, and frequent attacks by elephants which destroy their crops.
“We have always relied on this River Galana to do irrigation but the cost of fuel has risen to an alarming stage bringing most farming activities to a standstill. This situation of price increases is hurting us as ordinary farmers. We are suffering and do not know what to do. Everywhere you turn to, you find everything is too expensive,” he lamented.
Kazungu pleaded with the government to find all the means at its disposal to reduce fuel prices since it is the heartbeat of the economy adding that the fuel hardship is making life more unbearable to the common citizen.
Another group of small-scale farmers from Katana-Hakeye village led by Omari Kalume disclosed that the area has also been hit hard by the ongoing drought, which is characterized by the highly scorching heat from the sun.
He said the climate situation demands crops to be irrigated once a week to save them from withering, making the fueling of water generators too expensive for the poor farmers.
“Fuel is beyond reach while we are struggling with hunger. Maize flour is too expensive. As we struggle to find money to buy fuel, the drought is also raging. The less than a quarter acre of land that I managed to cultivate needs to be irrigated after seven days because of the severe drought,” he said.
Kalume’s neighbour Lydia Hajila was ready to harvest her maize. She was looking after her goats before she could start the work.
Growing the maize on her farm was an expensive affair because apart from grappling with the high price of fuel, she and her husband had to hire a water generator and water pipes, paying up to Sh500 in every round of irrigation.
She told the press that since the rise of fuel commodity started, the water generators are becoming less helpful because many residents cannot afford the cost associated with irrigation, with those who do not own the water generating machines being the most disadvantaged.
“The current price is too high and we are jobless. We have to do manual jobs and if I don’t find one for the day, I suffer because the children need food and need to go to school. I am a peasant farmer and I have to do odd jobs to get money for fuel,” she said.
“If the government could reduce the price of fuel, it could be a big relief because the river is permanent here and can help us get food. If people do not get the fuel, they will die from hunger,” she added.
By Jackson Msanzu and Harrison Yeri