Vegetable farmers staring at bankruptcy following Covid-19 schools closure

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Isaiah Arori from Inani village, Masige West ward in Kisii County tending to his Kale (Sukuma Wiki). His constant supply of the leafy vegetables to learning institutions for over 13 years came to an unexpected end after they closed indefinitely.

When the Kenya government abruptly closed schools in mid-March this year in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic, to many people it just seemed only a temporary disruption of the school calendar for 17million learners countywide.

            However, for a cross section of vegetable farmers in Nyamache Sub County in Kisii , it meant a shut off to their main source of income and the beginning of a cat and mouse game with creditors which they now appears will last an eternity.

            Among the most affected vegetable farmers is Isaiah Arori from Inani village, in Masige West ward who says his uninterrupted supply of kale (sukuma wiki) to learning institutions for over 13 years came to an unexpected halt when schools closed indefinitely.

            Arori vividly recalls  March 18 when the announcement was made by President Uhuru Kenyatta  because he had gone to deliver the leafy vegetables in one of the institutions when the deputy principal dropped the bombshell that it was the last day they were receiving his
produce until further notice.

            Little did he know that it was the beginning of his financial woes as it meant an abrupt stoppage to deliveries of 4,800kg of Kale worth Sh96 000 per month to various institutions in the County including Sameta, Riokindo and Magena Boys’ high schools.

            This also meant that he had to find an alternative to fend for his family and pay debts which were hiking after he had leased over five acres of land for the vegetable production to meet the rising demand.

            He says it was unbelievable because the consistent source of income from Kale had enabled him educate his four children, one up to university level, and two through secondary school.

            Arori is now crying foul over creditors who are forever knocking on his door demanding clearance of his debts including Equity Bank, Cooperative Bank loan and individual lenders.

            He says he does not know what to do with his almost seven acres of the 40000 pieces of kale plants requiring harvest.

            His wife Rebecca Arori says the many benefits experienced from farming kale  including paying fees for their children has gone with the wind after closure of schools due to covid-19.

            She says that with nowhere to sell the crop, the family now gives away at Sh100 per 32 to 35 kg sack.

            The same case applies to their neighbor Abel Omweya and his wife Eunice Kemunto who are cabbage farmers.

            To Omweya, Covid-19 has cost him a loss of over Sh60000 monthly since he is not able to supply his crop to various institutions in Nakuru, Nairobi and even Mombasa as all tenders were quashed due to the disease.

            Kemunto says the family was able to purchase livestock and pay fees with the profits from cabbage dues but that is no more.

            The farmers are apprehensive that their woes may prevail longer since the Education Ministry is yet to announce the schools opening date.

            They appealed to relevant authorities to hasten in finding a vaccine against coronavirus so that life can go back to normal.

            This comes even as Kisii County has so far reported over 110 Covid-19 cases and seven deaths.

            Education CS George Magoha has said only the President can announce the reopening of learning institutions and hinted it will be done in phases after compliance by the institutions.