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Monkeys throw spanners into Murang’a food production efforts

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Murang’a county’s efforts to be self-reliant in food production this year are in jeopardy as vervet monkeys continue to destroy crops in the region.

Despite spending exhausting hours in their shambas tending crops in an endeavour to harvest fruits and vegetables there are no rewards owing to destruction of plants life by the primates. The animals destroy both seedlings and flowers, preventing fruiting.

“Green fruits and vegetables are plucked and discarded,” says Ndung’u Kago, a 67-year-old farmer whose farm has been destroyed by the monkeys. He owns 25 macadamia trees and a few avocado bushes in Gatanga constituency.

Every year, Kago harvests two tonnes of macadamia nuts, but for the past two years, he has been getting almost nothing. “I noticed some vervet monkeys in my farm 10 years ago.  Initially, they were not destructive. The animals were few and covered a large acreage so their impact was minimal,” he says as he takes us around his farm.

Life changed for the farmer beginning 2016.  “During the last two years, I have been losing about Sh400,000 worth of crop annually to the monkeys,” he says.

Since macadamia nuts are too hard for vervet monkeys to break, the primates pick them when they are still green. Unfortunately, the nuts don’t all ripen simultaneously, so the primates eat over 90 per cent of the green nuts.

“I would like the government to trap these animals or otherwise compensate us so that we can now turn our farms into forests. We are ready to be contracted,” he says.

Kago is not the only farmer going through these tribulations. According to a special team formed by the Murang’a County government to control the menace, more than 67,200 acres have been rendered useless  by the monkeys. The worst hit regions are Gatanga, Maragwa, Kahuro and Kangema constituencies. Coffee berries are not spared, but tea zones have not been affected.

“The county is losing Sh70 million to vervet monkeys every year since the primates don’t have any economic value to the county. This is a problem which requires immediate intervention,” says Michael Chege, the  county’s Vervet Monkey Control Coordinator. 

Rachel Wangui, a maize and beans grower, is counting losses after her one-acre farm was invaded by a troop of monkeys, which destroyed everything. The monkeys are not even afraid of women.

Wangui used to harvest a 90kg sack of potatoes, two 90kg sacks of maize and a 90 kg sack of beans. This season, she will get nothing. “Last year, the county government gave us a trap, but we only managed to catch one monkey. When the rest realised their colleague had been ‘arrested’, they disappeared only to return in a big troop after the trap was removed,” she says.

Chege blames the prolonged droughts and the installation of an electrified wire fence around the Aberdare National Park for forcing the primates to relocate from the forests. Initially, their preferred habitats were along streams, rivers and lakes.

The county government has introduced two methods; trapping and translocating the animals or gunshots to scare the primates away. “About 200 monkeys have been translocated and we hope we will reduce these primates to a manageable number,” says chege.

Devastated, some families have abandoned their desolated farms to lease land elsewhere. Joseph Njoroge family is an example. The family initially owned a five- acre farm but has now been forced to lease two acres elsewhere at least to plant maize and beans for subsistence.

This comes even after the family received a trap from the county government, which they say has not helped. “The monkeys have turned our farm into their sleeping grounds, forcing us to lease land elsewhere,” says Njoroge.

At first, the family thought they only feed on cereals so they planted mangoes and avocado tree, to no avail. “So far, I have lost more than Sh200,000 to the primates,” says Njoroge.

Murang’a Kenya Wildlife Service warden, Muiruri Njoroge says even though the menace has been getting worse over the last few years, there are no statistics on the vervet monkeys in the county. “We have an eight-week long programme to reduce the numbers. We are scaring, trapping or eliminathing them, but  killing only the most stubborn monkeys,” he says.

What about some youth seen feasting on the monkeys? Muiruri says it is illegal and they don’t allow consumption  as the meat is not inspected and it can be infested with diseases. “I would like to warn people contemplating eating monkey meat.  Among the Kikuyu, it is a taboo to eat monkey meat. Farmers should also avoid killing the animals they trap because it is illegal too,” says Muiruri.

Murang’a had a human population of 942,581 according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2009 National Census. This is expected to have risen to over a million currently. Most residents grow maize, beans, cabbages, sorghum and millet, among others, for subsistence. Unless the monkey menace is contained, the county will face a food crisis later this year.

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