Impact of floods on agriculture in Kenya

a corn and orange farm flooded with rainwater

What is the impact of floods on agriculture? Agriculture contributes to around 25% of Kenya’s GDP. In this post, we discuss the positive and negative impact of perennial floods on farming in Kenya. 

The positive impact of floods on farming include water harvesting, replenishing soil nutrients in flood plains and restoring ecological balance in flood plains and swampy areas. The negative impact of floods on agriculture can affect individuals, businesses and the regional and national economy. It includes loss of animals, crops and property. Each of these are further discussed.

Positive Impact of floods on Agriculture

Though floods can be devastating, they have a positive impact on agriculture and incomes. They help in depositing soil nutrients, water harvesting, restoring river ecosystems and fishing.

Read Next: How to control floods in your farm

  • Water harvesting: Floods are the natural way of pumping water into natural and man-made water storages. These include; ponds, reservoirs, dams, irrigation channels and lakes like the Seven forks dams. This water is used for many months for drinking, irrigation and hydro electric power generation until the next rainy season. 
  • 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, affect air quality and promote community livelihoods through recreational and eco-tourism activities like fishing. 
  • Fishing: Flooding on a slow-moving rivers increases the available planktons and the size of the spawning area.  These are beneficial on supplying fish and other alternative income sources for fishing folk in the floodplains.

Negative impact of floods on agriculture

a corn field submerged under water

Floods are among the most expensive natural calamities. The impact of floods on agriculture can take decades to recover. They include damage of crops, livestock and property.

Effects on livestock farming

The effects of floods on animal’s health, growth and productivity is 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.

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

Dehydration: 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.

Stress, diseases and pests: 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. Farm 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.

Effects on crops farming

Floods can cause low yields for crop farmers during and after floods. These arise from inundation, submerging, erosion and waterlogging. There are losses in crops washed down by inundation.

  • Submerging: It arises from drowning of thousands of acres of food and cash crops. Others are washed away, submerged and destroyed.
  • Soil erosion: farms lose crops yields to soil erosion of fertile layers of the soil rendering it less fruitful. It will cause poor harvests and increased cost of farming.
  • Water logging: Flooded farms cause water-logging conditions. Water logging on crops’ roots cause them failure to respire as anaerobic conditions set in. Besides, flooding Beneficial microbes in the soils die and anaerobic organisms take over and produce toxic byproducts that may further kill the crops.

Effects on fishing

What are the negative impact of floods to the fishing sector? Floods sweep away fish from rivers, dams and ponds into the full flow of the flood. This will harm fish populations.

Effects on farmers life & health

Floods cause loss of life, displacement of people and mental distress among farmers, workers and their families.

Displacement: Some of the worst hit flood areas in Kenya are Budalangi and Nyando both in the Lake Victoria basin. Others are Baringo and Turkana counties. In mountainous areas like Murang’a counties, floods and mudslides have displaced many Kenyans. During displacement, people suffer from lack of clean water, food, shelter and hygiene amenities.

Mental distress: 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 condition can last for months or years. The aftermath of floods like resettling, rebuilding and loss of livelihoods also cause distress. The overall effect is a loss of key employees to manage investments and farms professionally.

Effect on food prices

Floods, interrupt the transport of food from farms to markets causing food shortage and inflation

Heavy rains interrupt distribution and prices of food from farms to markets. It arise from transport emergencies and low processing. Farmers and food traders incur higher costs to produce and sell They pass this to final consumers driving food prices up.

  • Transport emergencies: Floods, landslides and mudslides wash away or submerge roads and bridges cutting transport. Food trucks may get stuck delaying supplies of fresh farm products in the market.
  • Low Processing: Floods disrupt the supply of clean water and electricity supply affecting food processing and distribution. The effect is a shortage in markets.

Effects on agriculture funding

Floods destroy farm structures like cow pens, poultry sheds, irrigation kits and greenhouses. Others like processing plants, milk coolers and food markets are rendered useless for interminable periods.  This affect farms and firms production capacity resulting in supply shortages

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

Flooding can have a positive and negative effects on fishing. 

Siltation effect

When flooding occurs, water erosion occur carrying silt & sediments from highlands to the lowlands. The silt and sediments is deposited on water bodies like valleys, rivers or dams. It will eventually reduce the water holding capacity of those body leading to more floods and overflow of those water bodies. This has been the case with the fast rising water levels or swelling of most lakes in Kenya’s Rift Valley like the Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria.

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