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Coffee farmers raise red flag as pesticides fail

Sunday July 22 2018

Hillary Onsongo

Hillary Onsongo picks ripe coffee berries from his farm in Kisii County in 2016. Coffee farmers in Mt Kenya are grappling with diseases. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

MUCHEMI WACHIRA
By MUCHEMI WACHIRA
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Coffee farmers have raised the red flag over the effectiveness of agrochemicals being sold in the market following crop failure this season.

They had sprayed their coffee crop with pesticides, fungicides and applied fertiliser as required but the crop this season has succumbed to diseases unlike before.

Coffee Berry Disease (CBD), Leaf Rust and Solai-Elgon die back have attacked the crops despite the use of chemicals. The latter, which is new in Mount Kenya region where most of the country’s Arabica coffee is grown, is a bacterial blight disease, which is contagious.

It has forced the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation to issue an advisory to farmers in the area asking them to begin immediate management of the disease to contain further spread.
These diseases, which occur during the wet and cold seasons, have dampened farmers’ hope of realising a bumper harvest.

Most farmers believe the problem is with the chemicals they are buying from retailers.

“Some of these agrochemicals especially the ones for controlling spread of CBD it seems are fake from what I have witnessed. You use them as recommended yet you lose almost entire crop and this is not happening on all farms,” Eustace Gitonga, a farmer in Nyeri, lamented.

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Farmers in Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Kiambu and Embu have similar complaints, which has compelled the National Coffee Cooperatives Union (NCC) — an umbrella organisation of smallholder farmers in the country — to ask the national government to intervene.

NCC wants the government to reinstate financial support that Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) used to enjoy before the agriculture sector was devolved.

According to a member of the union’s management committee, Mr Francis Ngone, it is only the CRF that has the capacity to test the agrochemicals growers are using since they have all the research facilities.

CRF, which used to be an independent body is now under the Agriculture Food Authority and since devolution, its funding was reduced as it no longer provides extension services.

Before devolution, most farmers would not have used agrochemicals before they were tested and approved by the CRF, which worked directly with the growers through their extension services.

The foundation also used to test soils before advising farmers what type of fertiliser or even pesticide to use.

However, CRF director, Dr Elijah Gichuru, says the service is still there but due to lack of funding, most farmers have not been able to utilise it.

“It is counties that are now in charge of extension. Us, we are only responsible for research but we are still working with the county governments,” Dr Gichuru told the Sunday Nation adding that farmers who wish to utilise their services in ensuring that the agrochemicals they are using are safe must bring samples to CRF offices in Ruiru first before using them.

Most growers do not have the capacity to do this and devolved units have not been able to effectively provide the extension services.

“What they are saying is that CRF must first analyse them before they are released to the market,” Mr Ngone, who’s also the chairman of Murang’a Farmers Cooperative Union, said.

He added the rate at which green coffee berries are dropping down from tree branches after being attacked by CBD is worrying every farmer. The disease has never been such a problem in the past.