High costs due to inefficient use of fertiliser, water and land as well as political wrangles between the national and county governments could have contributed to the dismal performance of the Jubilee government flagship food security project Galana Kulalu.
The one-million-shilling Galana Kulalu food security project that straddles Tana River and Kilifi counties managed a paltry ten 90kg bags of maize per acre on the 10,000-acre model farm - a far cry from the 40 bags that had been expected from an acre.
A 40-bag harvest of maize from an acre at Galana scheme would have surpassed the national average of 17 bags that farmers in the country’s grain basket of Rift Valley harvest from the same size of land.
Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, a policy research institute, says that plot level factors such as inefficient use of land, fertiliser and water as well political economy issues such as irrigation governance conflicts between the national and county governments, procurement flaws, changing of projects costs and non-inclusive prioritisation, might have contributed to the poor yields.
Dennis Otieno, a research fellow at Tegemeo Institute, said that they did a study on new irrigation schemes being developed in Kenya with a special focus on maize production. “In our study we found that the average output from an acre of land was 11 bags per acre, which was very close to what was obtained from the Galana Kulalu,” said Dr Otieno.
They found that irrigated maize is profitable, viable and sustainable and that positive cash flows are reported within the investment period.
The study also found that most farmers, about 73 per cent, were willing to pay for irrigation services and water as the value they got from using water was much higher than the costs they incurred.
However, they found a production gap of up to 71 per cent due to crop level inefficiencies in the use of water, land, and fertiliser. The researchers found that fertiliser was excessively utilised while water and land were under-utilised.
There were also issues with investment prioritisation with disagreements ranging from whether a project should be developed to benefit individuals or the society; whether to grow maize or raise animals under pastoralism; and when using resources like water, how to price it?
Besides irrigation, the Egerton University-linked research institute also looked at the impact of land scarcity, climate change, input intensification, crop insurance, subsidy programmes, extension services and devolution on small-holder agriculture.
The study found transfer of most services to the county provided a great opportunity to transform small-holder agriculture; that crop revenue including that from tea and maize are significantly affected by persistent climate variability and change.
The report also found the need to suggest awareness and training on crop insurance. On targeted input subsidy programmes, the analysts emphasised the use of existing private-sector input distribution mechanisms, which will encourage private sector participation and reduce distortionary effects of subsidies and private fertiliser.