Maize falls out of favour in Mt Elgon
Hit by falling maize prices and feeling the effects of deforestation, more farmers are now switching to alternative crops.
For years, farmers in Trans Nzoia have relied on maize for their sustenance. But the situation is rapidly changing.
While some of the farmers have embarked on planting sugarcane and Irish potatoes as well as beekeeping, others have turned their energies to intensive kitchen gardening and zero-grazing.
A spot check by The Standard in several villages in Endebess and Kitale districts as well as parts of Mount Elgon region revealed that sweeping agricultural changes were afoot.
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Farmers said their decision to shift from maize was a result of years of frustration coupled with environmental factors.
“It has not been easy for us. Maize prices have kept falling while some of us have not been engaging in crop rotation,” said Beryl Chelimo.
Deforestation in large sections of Mount Elgon has also started wreaking havoc in the region, with a number of farmers – who have now embarked on intensive tree-planting – blaming the loss of tree cover for the erratic rainfall patterns that have affected maize production.
Ms Chelimo, who is among the farmers who have turned to dairy farming, argued that the introduction of other crops had greatly benefited them.
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“Many of us have started embracing kitchen gardens while establishing dumpsites at home to help control pollution, which has affected the quality of soil,” said Chelimo.
Along the slopes of Mount Elgon, large swathes of land have been cleared to pave the way for maize farming with only a handful of trees left standing.
This, according to residents, has put the forests in the region under threat, hence the need to shift focus to other farming practices and crops.
Protus Ndiema, an advocate of kitchen gardening, said the shift was aimed at addressing the food needs of a growing population.
A number of regional bodies tasked with overseeing the protection of the region have recommended the adoption of an integrated farming approach to aid conservation.
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According to the East African Community’s Lake Victoria Basin Commission, part of the efforts include coming up with measures to address population increase as well as adopting positive farm practices.
Doreen Othero, a researcher and the coordinator of the Population, Health and Environment Programme, told The Standard that an integrated approach could play a vital role in saving the livelihoods of the residents.
“We have been able to advise a number of them to have kitchen gardens as well as plant trees. In addition, they are also adopting clean farming practices, including zero-grazing,” said Dr Othero.
The high cost of fertilisers as well as the controversies that face maize production in the region have also pushed residents to embrace other farming methods.
Mr Ndiema said that although his family had earned a fortune from maize farming, which had enabled one of his sons to buy a car, the focus was now on crop diversification.
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“I have opted to have a model home where I do not rely solely on maize. Instead I have established a system where I have a zero-grazing unit as well as trying my luck with other crops,” he said.