Premature Cessation of 2013 Long Rains Affects Maize Crop Yields in Kuria West, Kenya
Nuru International is a social venture committed to ending extreme poverty in remote, rural areas. Nuru’s Agriculture Program frees families of episodic hunger and provides an economic base that equips them to deal with shocks and continue lifting themselves out of extreme poverty. On average, farmers who plant with Nuru during the long rains season increase their maize yield by 123%. A successful maize harvest in the long rains season depends on well distributed rainfall from March to June.
Farmers in Kuria West, Kenya experienced an early termination of 2013 long rains that severely impacted maize crop yields. This occurrence, an agricultural drought, is defined by a period of deficient precipitation resulting in extensive damage to crops and substantial yield losses. This particular drought is linked to regional climate and weather patterns and is of high intensity primarily because of its impact on maize crop yields.
Nuru farmers in Kuria West experienced extraordinarily dry weather from mid-May to the end of June 2013. The best available climate data from local weather stations indicate that such a marked reduction in precipitation late in the long rains season may recur approximately once every 20 to 30 years. Total precipitation was 55 mm (2.2 inches) from mid-May to the end of June 2013 or roughly 30% of the expected average. This dearth of precipitation matches regional trends as reported by FEWS NET in their East Africa Seasonal Monitor from July 2013:
“The March to May rains were average to above average in most parts of the East Africa region. The rains, however, subsided earlier than normal, which resulted in critical moisture deficits for crops and pasture in late May/early June in western, southeastern, and coastal parts of Kenya, much of Uganda, northwestern and northern parts of Somali Region in Ethiopia, and southern parts of Somalia.”
In Kuria West, the protracted precipitation deficit aligned with a time when maize in the field was acutely sensitive to such a lack of water. During May and early June, maize in Kuria West is typically at the tasseling and kernel development phases. For maize to put on grain-filled ears it needs consistent water, especially during the grain-filling period. Some maize wilted outright before grain development occurred. Another portion of the maize crop put on sparse cobs that were poorly-filled with kernels.
By early July, Nuru confirmed that the early end to the long rains would significantly impact maize harvests. Our team projected that approximately 92% of Nuru’s 5,518 farmers would experience significant yield losses. 61% of farmers are expected to lose more than half of their anticipated yields, with an additional 22% of farmers expecting to lose between a quarter and a half of their anticipated yields.
In the long rains season, Kurian families produce maize for the next year’s supply of their staple food and as a principal source of income. When maize crops fail, food security is threatened and the resilience of extremely poor households is put to the test. In this tough time, farmers are looking to Nuru and the government for ways to prevent hunger.
Since 2008, Nuru has worked in Kuria and successfully established deep trust with its farmers, the community, and the Kenyan government. Nuru International works in sustainable development, focusing on empowerment instead of relief. Preventing hunger is one of Nuru’s strategic objectives. Providing inputs on loan and facilitating market access for the surplus grain that farmers produce significantly contributes to farmer’s livelihoods and to Nuru Kenya’s financial sustainability.
Nuru’s response to the drought for our farmers is as follows:
- 50% loan discounting on the 2013 agriculture loans for all Nuru farmers
- Extension of the repayment deadline from September 30th to November 30th
- Access to credit (the agriculture loan of seed and fertilizer) to all Nuru farmers in 2014 even if they haven’t fully repaid the 2013 loan (any remaining 2013 balance will be tacked onto their 2014 loan balance; this is to protect farmers who lost their crop this year from experiencing prolonged severe hunger that can result in starvation for the family)
- Distribution of bean seed and training on best practices in bean production to the hardest hit farmers who lost everything
Nuru will not trade maize this year because there will not be surplus maize in Kuria West in 2013. If Nuru offered to buy maize from farmers, they would most likely sell their small harvest because of the high market price. However, this would unintentionally foment even worse hunger because farmers would not be able to afford to buy maize back for food as hunger spreads and maize prices continue to climb.
Unfortunately, the consequences of Nuru’s response to drought for the 2013 long rains season will result in a loss to Nuru Kenya Social Enterprises (NKSE) this year of approximately $300,000. NKSE is the for-profit economic engine of Nuru International that generates revenue to replace external funding and fund the nonprofit side (Nuru Kenya) to facilitate the exit of Nuru International staff. Prior to the drought, Nuru Kenya achieved a financial sustainability ratio of 60% for 2012. Because Nuru Kenya has not yet reached 100% financial sustainability, this $300,000 gap needs to be funded by Nuru International. The proof-of-concept of the Nuru Model includes a completely self-contained project in Kenya that can fund itself and absorb economic shocks like this drought in the future. It will include an operational reserve (funded by profits from NKSE) that the senior management of Nuru Kenya can tap into for program scaling, program expenses, and address emergencies like this when they inevitably occur.
Our plans for the 2014 long rains season center on further building resilience within farming households and for Nuru as an organization, with the following activities:
- Nuru Kenya’s Agriculture Program and NKSE will hold crop diversification options as a foundational element in the upcoming season’s farmer loan package with offerings that are more drought and disease resistant.
- This August, the start of 2013 short rains, Nuru launched a pilot with farmers for the production of the African Birds Eye chili cash crop, a great opportunity for farmers and NKSE to both generate much needed income.
- Nuru International covered a great deal of risk through cost-effective crop insurance in 2013 and is negotiating the expansion of crop insurance coverage in 2014.
- Nuru and our farmers will realize success by integrating more disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed, diversifying crop production, and further covering risk through crop insurance.
Nuru International is asking its donors and supporters to stand with Nuru farmers and Nuru Kenya to prevent hunger during this difficult time.
Relevant News and Information
- Kenya Meteorological Department, http://www.meteo.go.ke/
- FEWS NET, http://www.fews.net/Pages/default.aspx
About Matt Lineal
Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.Read More Stories of Hope