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Which way forward for State’s subsidised fertilizer programme?

By Prof Njue Mugai | Published Sat, May 12th 2018 at 00:09, Updated May 12th 2018 at 00:13 GMT +3

Last week, I wrote at length about crop fertilisers with focus on DAP and NPK. Today, I will explore the bottlenecks that affect the State’s fertiliser distribution programme.

There has been an outcry from farmers that the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is not able to procure the government subsidised fertilisers on time. Those who had paid for it waited even when the rains were on to get their supplies.

There were rumours that unscrupulous traders bought huge amounts of the cheap fertiliser and were bagging it in non-GK labelled bags and selling at more than double the recommended price. The Government has since announced a registration of farmers so that non-farmers do not take that advantage over this programme. What’s the way forward to avoid such in future?

The Government agencies involved in procurement of fertilisers should plan well so that by the time the planting season begins, the fertiliser is already in NCPB stores. This may be difficult because of government bureaucracy in providing funds on time to the Board.

Going forward, the government may have to allow it to borrow funds from banks for fertiliser procurement.

Fertiliser subsidies need to emphasise on the following:

Long term availability of funds to subsidize the fertiliser

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Efficient and well planned fertiliser procurement system

Foolproof system of procurement and distribution that does not allow corrupt practices

Subsidised price that farmers can afford without thinking they are getting free fertiliser

Efficient quality control that ensures farmers get the right fertilizer for the right crops.

Malawi did it

As it is, the current distribution system of government subsidised fertiliser only favours large scale farmers who can hire trucks to ferry fertiliser to their farms. What about a small scale farmer growing maize on less than one hectare? I would propose that NCB devolves their stores to locational level.

We can also copy the Malawi model that worked well when it was in operation. It targeted maize and tobacco. In the first step the beneficiaries of the programme were farmers meeting the following criteria:

a) Malawian that owns a piece of land (they should own and the land should be cultivated)

b) Guardians looking after physically challenged persons

 c) Residents of the village

d) Only one beneficiary per household would be registered

e) Vulnerable households such as child-headed, female-headed or orphan headed

Since almost all Malawian rural households had some land, the number of coupons were not sufficient to reach all landed households. This implied that the first criterion was combined with one or more of the other criteria.

For the distribution and targeting of the subsidy, the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture was given the responsibility of printing and distribution of vouchers for acquisition of fertilisers from agro-shops in village centres. The Agricultural officers working with local community leaders were responsible for selection of beneficiaries and the subsequent distribution of vouchers. This involved supplying registered farmers with a voucher for a bag each that would allow them to collect fertilisers from agro-shops and the traders would use the same to claim reimbursement from the Government. This would work very well for the small scale farmers. However, it has to be noted that this program was heavily supported by foreign donors. Kenya can look into the possibility of adopting the above model on fertiliser distribution that heavily involve the private sector because private sector is much more efficient in any commercial business than Government. However a law needs to be created on fertiliser production, importation, distribution and quality.

[Prof Njue Mugai is an Associate Professor of soil Sciences and plant nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, [email protected]]

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