By Kenyan journalist Moraa Obiria, first published on Jadmedia.org.
Food security in Kenya has been threatened by the increase of pests and diseases which is linked to climate change and now farmers are adapting.
Changing climatic patterns in Kenya has led to drought and the emergence of pests and diseases which have badly affected the agricultural production in the country. Farmers in various places in the country have tackled the issue of drought through solutions like sinking of boreholes and solar irrigation.
This has left the problem of pests and diseases as a persistent problem in some parts. Samwel Muraya for instance, who has been farming in Kenya’s Rift Valley for over 30 years, has over the past few years witnessed an increase in pests and diseases in his farm
In 2015 Muraya lost his half-acre of green beans to whitefly. He said the weather was warm and dry uncommon to the usual cool temperature that characterizes his area bordering Bahati Forest. The pest’s invasion was massive unlike before, he said.
“I applied a similar pesticide I use to kill whiteflies on vegetables but it did not work,” he said.
The disappointed Muraya then decided to scout for a better solution. The solution came during a crop protection exhibition at Egerton University. He learnt of Chinese agro-chemicals which are locally sold. He tried a pesticide called Dumiza distributed by Kenyan -registered firm-Dahwa Agrochemicals Limited.
Dahwa Agrochemicals was among the firms that attended the 2015 China International Agrochemicals and Crop Protection Exhibition (CAC) Africa Summit to sample China-made agrochemicals to import.
Its sales managers then told this reporter that their attendance was intended at assorting a number of products from the 23 Chinese companies present to meet the farming needs of Kenyan farmers.
For Muraya,his need has been successfully met. Though he has withheld planting of the green beans due to fear of another loss, the farmer says Dumiza has worked well in controlling whiteflies on his vegetables.
“Dumiza is the only agrochemical I am currently using in growing my vegetables and red pepper,” said Muraya.
“I apply it both as a fertilizer and pesticide and I cannot complain since I have not seen the kales turn dry yellow because of whiteflies.”
At least 85 percent of the Kenyan population depends on agriculture as a livelihood. The government has earmarked the sector as a catalyst to achieving 10 percent annual growth by 2030 from the current average of 5.9 percent.
This would put it ahead of Cote d’Ivoire, the West African country leading in global production and exportation of cocoa, whose current annual growth rate stands at 7.9 percent
For more than 500 years, China has advanced in agrochemicals manufacturing technology, becoming one of the best producers of the products.
Some 301 China-produced pesticides have been registered by Kenya’s Pest Control Products Board for use among East Africa’s farmers.
Although, Kenyan farmers are accessing these pesticides, how to appropriately use them to effectively prevent massive crop destruction in this era of mixed extreme weather patterns stands out as a nagging challenge.
The agriculture-focused Confucius Institute at Egerton University has since 2013 significantly bridged this gap through outreach programmes targeting local farmers.
The institute is a product of Egerton University and Nanjing Agricultural University’s partnership dating back to 1995.
Prof Liu Gaoqiong, deployed to the Kenyan university’s department of Crop, Horticulture and Soils(CHS) from Nanjing Agricultural University in 1997, leads the institute’s outreach programmes. Prof. Liu said they have since trained at least 250 model farmers and extension officers on pest and disease control and management in five counties including Homabay,Machakos,Vihiga, Siaya and Nakuru.
Jeremiah Kungu,a large-scale farmer in Thayu farm village in Bahati, Nakuru County is one of the model farmers.
“It is very helpful when farmers are educated on how to use pesticides. When Prof.Liu and his colleagues introduced me and about nine other farmers to China-made pesticides, they explained to us the best time to apply them and how to apply them,” said Kungu presently farming on a 30-acre land.
“For instance, during dry season, the pesticides should be applied very early in the morning as this time the pests are more vulnerable and the crop is more receptive of the pesticide,” noted the farmer.
Through the ongoing partnership, Nanjing Agricultural University and Egerton University launched a crop molecular laboratory in the latter university further facilitating training of students and conducting research on pests and diseases, said Dr. Morwani Gesimba, chairperson of Egerton University’s Department of Crop, Horticulture and Soils.
High potential areas have become more susceptible to invasion of pests as a result of rising heat which creates a favourable warm environment for their booming, said Absalom Ragira, an environmental and climate change specialist with Tree is Life, a non-governmental organization helping rural farmers adapt to climate smart agriculture.
“Places that were colder are now warm and for the pests it is a good condition for them to thrive,” he said.
“At the same time pests are moving from areas where the crops have failed to where they can find food. That is why for instance armyworms were spreading so fast because they were scavenging for food.”
He added that in this hot weather which is now prevalent in many parts of the country, application of pesticides is also ending up being an exercise in futility thus demanding for sensitization of farmers on effective ways of controlling pests.
“Because of too much heat, the pesticides are getting evaporated before they kill the pests. It is therefore very important for the farmers to be more knowledgeable on the best times of the day to apply the pesticides to achieve the intended result,” he stated.
This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand.