Farming gamble that fuels food scarcity
SEE ALSO :Spices can energise Kenya’s exportsMartin is convinced that both the national and county governments have abandoned him and many other small-holder farmers to the whims of avaricious cartels. When we meet him at his farm in Misemwa village, he is watching on as two young men plough his field in readiness for planting. He had paid Sh800 for two draft oxen and the plough. The men would charge him Sh20 for every furrow made. By the time they are done, we count 80 furrows. He tells us he has bought seeds and fertiliser, and was only waiting for the rains to start then he would plant. The seeds cost Sh3,100 while fertiliser leaves him Sh7,800 poorer. After a few months, the germinating crops would need weeding. He would pay Sh30 for every line worked on, leaving a hole of Sh2,400 in his bank account. In total, the old man would spend about Sh12,600 on his one-acre farm. After nine months, and with luck, he would harvest about 20 bags of maize. That would be around November, just when the festive season is beckoning. “Around this time, just after we have harvested, some people go around buying the newly harvested maize from farmers at Sh40 for a gorogoro,” says Martin. Fun-filled And because the farmers are desperate to have a fun-filled Christmas, they dispose of their maize at throw-away prices. For Martin, selling a two-kilogramme tin at Sh40 would mean getting Sh1,800 for a 90 kilogramme bag of maize. In total, he would pocket about Sh36,000, which would mean a net annual income of Sh23,400 if he deducted the Sh12,600 expense. This works out to a monthly income of Sh1,950 - far below the official minimum wage of Sh12,000 per month.
SEE ALSO :How to make poultry Kenya's new cash cowA government’s subsidy programme that would have seen poor farmers receive fertiliser and seeds at a cheaper price, instead favours commercial farmers with deep pockets. Moreover, the farmer needs a rubber-stamped letter from his area chief to take to the cereals board for certification. The board will then create for him an account number. “To avoid all that trouble, I buy seeds and fertiliser from a private wholesaler in town at Sh3,100 while at the NCPB it costs Sh1,900,” says Martin. Martin also remembers with nostalgia co-operatives that helped them against exploitation by the middle-men. Co-operatives with their financial muscles would have, with relative ease, taken their crops to such areas as Lokichar where they would have fetched better prices. They, too, are gone. Today, there are reports that neither the government nor Martin has maize, a grain used to make Kenya’s staple food ugali. The government has already set in place the process to import white-maize duty-free from Mexico even as inputs used to produce maize and wheat flour are zero-rated in what the government believes will bring down the cost of a two-kilogramme packet of unga to Sh115. However, when we drive up to Lessos, a few steps from the derelict silos we find men busy offloading maize from trucks into these silos. There is a queue of trucks waiting. The same thing is repeated along the entire breadth of Lessos. The silos belong to brokers and most of the maize is acquired at a cheaper price from farmers such as Martin.
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