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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Maize farmers cry foul over hiked labour

By Duncan Ndegwa

Labour force in maize farms in Ng’arua area of Laikipia West District has become scarce. Farmers cannot get people to weed their farms. It is weeding season in the area after a month-long rainy season. Rain came in plenty and made farms in low altitude areas to be water-logged. Weeds are now turning to be bushes in these farms.

The few labourers who are available are charging exorbitantly. A farm measuring 20 feet by 20 feet was initially weeded at a cost of Ksh150 but today it costs between Ksh300 and Ksh400.The problem is compounded by the migration of young men who used to provide affordable labour in these farms to the boda-boda industry (motorcycle transport). They are running their errands in Kinamba and Sipili shopping centres.

“We opted to work in the boda-boda sector because it is not tedious. It is paying us well because in a fruitful day we go home with more than 1000 shillings,” Said Mr. Gitonga a boda-boda operator at Kinamba shopping centre.

A visit to a maize farm in Kiriko village by Laikipia Rural Voices (LRV) ends up in Mr. Mwangi’s farm. He is a man full of wrath because of the prevailing state of work force. He complains that the few who are available are doing shoddy jobs since they want to rush to other farms. “They are also not ready to weed farms that have maize and beans inter-cropped,” says Mr. Mwangi whose face barely conceals anger.
Mr.Joseph Kalulu a casual farm labourer weeding maize plants.

LRV made an investigation on the welfare of the labourers and discovered that they were reaping a lot this season. Sipili shopping centre hosts most of them after the day’s work. One can easily notice clean well dressed young men carrying not-very-cheap mobile phones. David Thuo a casual labourer talked to LRV reporter: “this year, it is the worker who decides what is to be paid unlike the previous seasons. Things have totally changed. The landlords are begging us to work at the prices we solely quote.” He says that he has earned more than Ksh20000 in the last one month. On average he takes home Ksh1000 a day. Having just completed secondary school education, he is full of dreams with the current pay. He plans to save more money to take a driving course in Kinamba centre in the month of August.

Farmers are not the only one affected. Primary schools have recorded shortage of pupils because of the lucrative sector. School children are missing classes because they have been lured to work in these farms to make a kill. They are conspicuously present in cafeterias and video halls. They can afford these pleasures because of the money they make in the farms. However, it has impacted negatively on their class performance. A teacher who spoke to LRV but sought anonymity since he is not authorized to speak to the press confirmed this.

The Divisional Agricultural Officer (DAO) Mr. Kamau advised farmers through LRV to prepare adequately before planting. He advises them to use alternative farming methods such as chemical farming. He also emphasizes on the use of pre-planting herbicides that prevent weeds from germinating. The DAO’s parting shot to farmers is to keep proper farm records to avoid engaging themselves in activities that end up at a loss.
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