Effects of floods on Kenya’s Agriculture

On the evening of 9 May 2018, over 500 families in a small town of Solai in Kenya were on their routine evening chores. A loud bang chaotically disrupted these, as the Milmet dam burst her banks. A massive flood of 70 million litres of water, 1.5 meters high and extending 500 meters wide, unleashed its destructive power on helpless villagers. The result would leave over 2000 people homeless and 48 fatalities. The lives of those families in the valley will never be the same.

Floods are among the most expensive calamities. Their impact is worse and lasting than those of terrorism.  Their effects can be positive or negative on struck individuals and businesses. Their severity is subject to location, extent and existing risk exposure of the residents.  Their loss depends on the value of drowned investments.

Related: Key Challenges affecting Kenyan agriculture in 2020

What are the effects of floods on agriculture? In this post, we discuss the impact of perennial floods on Kenyan farming.  The focus is on the loss of life and property, food insecurity, animal and human health and effects on fishing. The article concludes on the benefits of floods on food production. Agriculture contributes to around 25% of Kenya’s GDP.

Loss of human life, crops and property.

On 14th May 2020. At least 237 people had died since the onset of the long rainy season in April. This was according to the Devolution Cabinet Secretary, Eugene Wamalwa. Besides, these floods had displaced 161,000 households, affecting 807,000 Kenyans. Of these, 44,000 people are in Budalangi and 60,000 people are from Nyando both in the Lake Victoria basin. 32,000 people in Kisumu County were displaced in 48 hours.

Thousands of livestock have drowned, food crops destroyed and acres of land submerged. Besides, a lot of structures are destroyed. These include farm structures like cow pens, poultry sheds, irrigation kits and greenhouses. Others are processing plants like milk coolers and food markets, rendering them useless for interminable periods.  This affect farms and firms production capacity resulting in supply shortages.

Psychiatric disorders

Displaced people by floods are likely to suffer from mental health issues like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder is caused by very stressful, frightening and distressing events. This can be a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, a serious accident or another violent event. This condition can last for months or years. The aftermath of floods like resettling, rebuilding and loss of livelihoods also cause distress. They have to receive professional aid to help cope with loss. If this is missing, the overall effect is a loss of key employees to manage investments and farms professionally.

Food insecurity.

floods, mudslides, and landslides interrupt the transport of food from farms to markets leadung to food shortage and insecurity

The major challenge of floods is food insecurity. This is a complex state of poor yields, inflation of food prices and supply challenges.

Lower yields result from crop destruction, drowning of livestock and erosion of fertile layers of the soil rendering it less fruitful. This will cause poor harvests and increased cost of farming.

Heavy rains interrupt distribution of food from farms to markets. Floods, landslides and mudslides wash away or submerge roads and bridges cutting transport. Besides, floods disrupt the supply of clean water and electricity supply affecting food processing and distribution. Food trucks may get stuck delaying supplies of fresh farm products in the market. The effect is a shortage in markets. Farmers and food traders incur higher costs. They pass this to final consumers driving food prices up.

Inadequate investments

The droughts and floods between November 2016 and April 2018 cost Kenya authorities over Sh20 billion. In the absence of those climate challenges, much would have been used to better agriculture development.

Recovering from flooding is expensive. This will reduce funds available for investing in modern farming and processing.  This will eventually lead to poor yields, and limited capacity to use harvests. Farmers may report huge incidences of post-harvest losses.

Effects of floods on livestock health and productivity

The effects of floods on animal health are massive. They cause feed shortage, dehydration and increase the risk of infections. This affects the yields of animal source foods such as milk, meat and eggs. Managing disease outbreaks is also expensive for farmers.

Flooded areas damage to pasture. Ranchers have to seek for alternative fodder on the quick run. Besides, floods can damage stored animal feed through mould toxicity. This poisoning can cause animal death or long-term chronic illness.

Floods can lead to dry water taps animal dehydration.  They contaminate water sources with dirty water and block pipes. Animals will have an inadequate supply of drinking water and may end up suffering from dehydration.

Flooding can have a positive and negative effects on fishing. 

Animals may suffer from feet problems after heavy rainfall and floods.  They damage their hooves after immersion, walking and standing for long hours on wet and muddy grounds.

Livestock exposed to floods is likely to suffer from stress, diseases and pests. Cows, goat and sheep are likely to suffer from pneumonia and diarrhoea after long exposure to cold. Parasites like worm larvae are likely to survive much longer in wetter conditions. Cattle may get bloated after feeding on lush vegetation such as Lucerne or clover.

Effects of floods on Aquaculture

What do floods mean for the fishing sector? The effect may be positive or negative. On the one hand. Floods sweep away fish from rivers, dams and ponds into the full flow of the flood. This will harm fish populations. Flooding can have a positive effect on fishing.  Flooding on slower-moving rivers, it increases both the number of plankton and the size of the spawning area.  This will have a beneficial effect. There is an abundant supply of fish and alternative income sources for fishing communities in the floodplain.

Benefits of floods on agriculture

Though floods are devastating, they have a positive impact on crop farming, animal raising and fishing. They help in depositing soil nutrients, water harvesting and restoring river ecosystems.

  • Water harvesting; Floods are the natural way of pumping water into natural and man-made water stores. These include; ponds, reservoirs, dams and irrigation channels. This water is used for drinking and irrigation until the next rainy harvest. 
  • Deposit soil nutrients; Floodwaters carry soil nutrients and sediments from highlands. These are deposited on floodplains. These sediments replenish nutrients in topsoil and make farmlands on flood plains more fertile.
  • Renew river ecosystems; periodic flooding on wetlands, swamps and flood plains help in the restoration of an ecological balance especially on arid areas. This is essential for healthy fish, wildlife, birds and crops. Floods provide clean water supplies, affect air quality and promote community livelihoods through recreational and eco-tourism activities like fishing. 

Floods have both positive and negative effects on Kenyan agriculture. Though there are expensive natural calamities, we also have to appreciate its impact as well.

Samuel K

Samuel Kibicho is passionate about profitable and safe agriculture as a tool for wealth creation and food security. He is the founder of Agcenture and consults in market systems development (MSD), program management and result measurement, monitoring and evaluation for sustainable agriculture & rural development projects.

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4 Responses

  1. May 23, 2020

    […] Floods have negative effects on Kenyan agriculture. They destroy a lot of human life and property each flooding season. With climate change leading to severe and more frequent flooding, the investments in this area may improve our future resilience. […]

  2. June 3, 2020

    […] region. Droughts impacts on desertification and supply of water, arable land and pasture supplies. Effects of floods on agriculture include landslides and destruction of life, property and […]

  3. July 16, 2020

    […] in the East Africa region. Droughts impacts on supply of clean water, arable land and pasture. floods on the other hand cause landslides and destroy human and livestock lives, property and […]

  4. July 24, 2020

    […] This natural calamity destroys human life, property, crops and animal yields. Though they have a positive impact on farming, the risk to vulnerable poor farmers and pastoralists is enormous. As water sweeps their crops and […]

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