MAINA: There is a silver lining for farmers in El Nino rains

The weatherman’s forecast of an impending El Nino has jolted the country into a frenzy with government and other disaster preparedness institutions burning the midnight oil to ensure that the impending rains do not get the country flat footed like they did in 1997.

Media coverage and public discourse has revolved around how to evacuate dwellers living in flood prone areas or how ill prepared the country is for the expected rains.

Agriculture, which is poised to be directly affected by El Nino, has equally dominated discussions, with the focus being how much farmers stand to lose.

Media has been awash with images of frantic farmers rushing to prematurely harvest their produce ahead of the rains to salvage the little they can. But is this discussion enough?

Is flooding, destruction of crops and infrastructure all there is to the El Nino debate? Certainly not. And this is where we are getting it wrong.

True, preparedness should inform our conversations and action, but so should our ability to take aantage of any silver lining such phenomena pose. For El Nino is not all about doom and gloom for our farmers.

In fact according to a research released last year on the impacts of El Nino and La Nina on global food production, El Nino has had a positive impact on crop yields in 30 to 36 per cent of harvested regions.

Soya bean, one of the crops under study, recorded a 4.5 per cent jump in yields during El Nino years than normal times.

In some of the relatively dry areas in America, El Nino is usually seen as the ‘great wet hope’ with the rains associated with breaking the searing drought.

With the forecasting of such phenomena becoming more accurate, scientists in most of these countries are now moving to training the people mostly affected on resilience for example agronomic adaptation for farmers. There is no reason why we shouldn’t embrace it here.

Already farmers have cleared their farms off any produce in anticipation of the heavy rains. With the weather man having predicted that the rains will on average last for three months, what happens to farms in those three months?

Alternative crops that can withstand the heavy rains and floods are limitless. Plants like bananas and napier grass have been known to withstand an above normal supply of water.

Having them in farms as the farmers await the rains to subside would make economic sense in a country that has over the recent past decried dwindling pasture for livestock which has set in motion a catalogue of devastating events including depressed earnings from livestock farmers and disposal of livestock at throw away prices.

And then there is the question of water conservation and harvesting, an all too familiar phrase that has been recited by virtually anyone but one which we have nothing to show for.

The writer is a communications manager.