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Nyeri farmer strives to stay afloat amidst hard economic times

The prolonged drought coupled with the worsening economic situation in the country has shoved Kenyans into unfamiliar corners of survival they would never have dreamt of.

And while some could be finding it hard to swim against the tide, others have devised novel ideas to confront the stormy times ahead.

But even for the most resilient, challenges are never too far from their doorstep, especially with the devastating drought that has seen Kenya experience her worst dry spell in over four decades.

In its trail, it has left more than 2 million livestock dead and close to 5 million Kenyans staring at starvation.

Mary Wachira, a resident of Gatitu Village in Nyeri, could perhaps be among the few lucky farmers whose maize crop has survived the prevailing drought, but at high cost.

Recently she found thieves had made away with three sacks of her green maze that she had spent a fortune to irrigate due to the prevailing dry weather.

“They did not wait for nightfall; they came in at around 6.30 pm. By the time my farmhands were realizing what was ensuing, the thieves were crossing the road with the third sack of the loot,” says Ms Wachira.

Much as she may be able to put in place measures to prevent a second theft incident, a bigger problem is now staring at her on a daily basis.

On one side of her farm, Ms Wachira has a brood of 1,500 layers which yield between 1,200 and 1,300 eggs on a daily basis.

But with no buyers willing to take-up the eggs, she has been left with no choice but to convert one section of her table room to a storage area for her produce.

“In order to break even, a tray should retail at Sh 500, however, the suppliers want to buy it from the farmer for as little as Sh.390 per tray which is not enough to cover the cost of feed that the birds consume in a day. That is why it is easy for you to find poultry farmers like me with trays of eggs in their houses,” she says.

Her 17 acres land paints a grim picture of the aftermath of climate change and its negative implications on inflation.

When KNA toured her farm, it was hard to ignore the wilting cabbages and kales.

Before the drought struck, she was one of the vegetable suppliers in Chaka market delivering produce to the market at least thrice a week.

Surprisingly, she no longer milks her three Friesian cows that used to give her between 30 and 34 litres every day.

She says that she has channeled most of her energy to keeping them alive as she waits for the situation to improve.

“I have been forced to change my priorities from farming for business to farming for subsistence due to the prevailing weather conditions,” she says.

Before the Covid 19 pandemic came knocking in the country, Wachira used to supply at least 24,000 broilers to various food outlets in Nairobi.

During those days, she could pocket a cool Sh5 million from a single sale of her broilers, which are a common delicacy in the majority of fast-food eateries in the City.

Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic dealt a major blow to her occupation after many of her customers closed shop following the slapping of painful but compulsory health protocols, to help curb new infections.

By February last year, the former East African Airways employee, said the aftershocks of the pandemic not only cut down on her profit margins, but equally forced her to scale down on the number of birds she could raise on her 17-acre farm.

“Times have changed since we got a hit from this (Covid-19) disease. Previously we used to rake in millions from the sale of chickens. But today things are quite different after the pandemic forced many hotels and eateries to close down, leaving us with limited options on where to take our meat,” she explained when we visited her farm last year.

So bad was the situation then, that Wachira’s bird population by then stood at 7,000, a far cry from what she used to rear during the hey days.

The slump in her stock of birds equally forced her to scale down the number of workers in her chicken farm from the original eight to four.

Unknown to her then, her challenges were far from over.

Today, she has been forced to abandon the rearing of broilers due to the high costs involved in purchasing feed for them.

By the time she was taking a U-turn from broiler farming, she had lost Sh2.4 million in the venture, owing to hostile market forces coupled with exorbitant feed prices that are yet to come down.

But even in her new venture, she fears the situation may remain volatile unless the State intervenes in lowering farm inputs and also creates a level playing field, where farmers can market their agricultural produce at a profit.

“The situation is dire than anything I have ever witnessed in my entire walking life. The government needs to do something and do that urgently. Right now, my dairy cows that used to produce at least 25 kilograms per cow per day can barely now produce a mere five kilograms due to lack of feed as the costs are out of reach. The same case applies to the egg business, where you need dozens of sacks to feed your birds with a bag going for Sh 5,000 and yet those buying them are offering to purchase the same at a throwaway price or they leave you with your products,” she points out.

She is now appealing to the government to do something in addressing the prevailing economic situation before a majority of Kenyans abandon farming for something else.

Wachira also appealed to the government to zero rate all farm inputs and animal feeds such as is in other East Africa countries, including Uganda in order to make agriculture a profitable venture once again.

“This government must do something about farming. They must think about the issue of farm feeds and how they can bring down the prices, including zero rating, if we really have any hope of remaining in farming in the coming days in this country,” she appealed.

By Wangari Mwangi and Samuel Maina


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