The Covid-19 pandemic struck at a time when farmers were struggling with the locust menace.
The outbreak of the disease in March also marked the onset of the planting season, a time when farmers are busy on the farm.
Although Covid-19 impact on farming has been indirect, the disease has had several socio-economic effects.
Assessing the challenges various value chain actors encountered during the outbreak and developing mitigating measures will offer ways on how to cope with future catastrophes thus guarantee sustainable food production.
Inputs include feeds, seeds and fertilise. The challenge with livestock feeds is that the raw materials used such as maize and soybean meal come from neighbouring countries.
As a strategic measure, feed producers should in the long-term search for produce that can replace imported inputs.
These include sunflower cake in place of soybean meal and yellow maize and sugar beets.
Further, farmers must now take up the challenge and plant more feed materials targeting the animal feed market and explore possibilities of growing yellow maize and sugar beet, which do well in dairy animal zones.
They can also plant high protein trees and fodder like lucerne and desmodium that can supplement the manufactured feeds such as dairy meal, which require high protein content.
These fodder can be used for direct animal feeding or conserved in wet and dry forms such as silage and hay.
Farmers should also learn how to make homemade feed rations from the crops that they produce on the farm.
To plant livestock feeds, farmers require seeds and fertilisers. Although seeds have not been a big challenge during the outbreak (most likely because that are locally produced), fertiliser acquisition was not easy.
Similarly, animal manure which is available on livestock farms was not accessible due to poor condition of rural roads, especially during the planting season that is also the wet time of the year.
Farmers should, therefore, practice manure management through use of biogas technology or through composting.
Further they should harvest and store dry manure under a shade and in the accessible parts of the farm.
Other livestock waste producers such as slaughterhouses should start to aggressively sell animal stomach content, which is a good fertiliser.
Sewage treatment plants produce human waste that has been treated and can be applied to trees and young fruit trees to preserve inorganic fertilisers and manure for sensitive crops such as horticulture.
Foliar fertilisers produced on rabbit farms, for instance, should be marketed and embraced as another source of crop nourishment.
The pandemic disrupted the importation of livestock drugs, with key vaccines such as parvovirus for dogs and pox for poultry going out of stock.
Further, there was a glaring lack of convenient vaccine packages to support local production.
A good example is that of poultry vaccines, which are in packages of 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 doses despite the fact that most of the farmers keep 1-10 birds.
Key cattle vaccines such as those for foot and mouth disease (FMD) are in 100 dose bottle despite the low number of animals kept by small-scale producers.
This should change, it is time manufacturers embrace packages that are proportionate to local herds and flocks.
Further, drug manufactures should strive to open branches across the country for ease of supply during pandemics while local vaccine producing companies should broaden their spectrum to cover all livestock and the various diseases in respective breeds.
Emphasis should also be placed on production of long-acting drugs and vaccines.
Distributors/agrovets shops can strive to stock large quantities of drugs in anticipation of shortages or when signs that there may be a pandemic set in.
Most antibiotics are administered for 3-5 days, the shorter cycle can be recommended in times of a catastrophe as a drug-saving mechanism.
Insurance agents should work closely with financial institutions and intensify their coverage of the agricultural produce.
Producers must strive to use other disease-control methods such as bio-security that minimise introduction of pathogens on the farms.
During a crisis, they should also avoid introduction of new animals as a bio-security measure.
Reducing the animal stock to manageable levels, especially the breeding stock that assist in bouncing back, can help enhance disease control measures such as vaccination, deworming and tick management.
Work to extend the shelf-life of produce through use of refrigeration and processing, for instance of milk, into long shelf-life products such as mala and yogurt.
Another big lesson for farmers is that they should always save to have some cash reserves either through formal institutions like commercial banks and Saccos or through informal channels like table-banking and merry-go-round. Such money will cushion you in case of emergencies.
Then, mechanise farms. With the need to observe social distancing, the congregation of workers on the farm is discouraged, thus you cannot go wrong with machines.
Online platforms have come in handy during the Covid-19 pandemic by enhancing trade when mobility situations remained low.
Going forwward, farmers must strive to use this platforms. Storage facilities and national food reserves should be improved.
Avoid food wastage. Purchase long shelf-life products such as grains and extend the shelf-life of others through smoking, drying and refrigeration.
Lastly, one of the big lessons from the pandemic is that a country cannot rely on food imports.
It is thus time policy makers formulate strategies that enhance local production of maize (yellow and white), other crops, vaccines and drugs for our own sufficiency.
1. The crisis has brought out the importance of agriculture industry, with the sector remaining resilient during the pandemic.
2. The importance of prioritising mechanisation has come out in bid to maintain social distance.
3. The crisis helped boost food safety as consumers, producers, manufacturers and distributors strove to maintain hygiene.
4. As food imports from neighbouring countries declined, Kenyan farmers sustained the supply chain, an indication that we can produce enough.
5. Insurance agents should work closely with financial institutions and intensify their coverage of agricultural produce.
6. Policymakers should formulate strategies that enhance local production of yellow maize, vaccines and drugs.