Kenya fed by poor neighbours as bad policies hurt harvests

Poor Government policies have seen Kenya drop from its position as the leading producer of cereals in the region.

According to a new World Bank report, this has left the country with no option but to import food from its relatively poorer neighbours.

Despite extensive use of subsidised fertiliser, Kenya’s harvest of maize has dropped sharply to 1,628kg per hectare from a yield of 1,918kg per hectare two decades ago, with the country now lagging behind Uganda and Ethiopia in the production of the staple.

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The World Bank said the situation is the same with other cereals such as beans.

And with consumption of the maize -  a critical cereal in preparation of the country’s staple dish of ugali - rising faster than production, Kenya has been forced to import it from Uganda and Tanzania and in times of acute shortage as far as Mexico.  

“Despite being a cereals production leader in the 1980s and 1990s, Kenya now has the lowest grain yields in East Africa,” said the World Bank in the latest Kenya Economic Update.

Kenya’s total factor productivity- or yields from such inputs as technology and extension services - dropped by 10 percentage points to lag behind Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania as well as its low-middle income peers in South Asia and South East Asia.  

“For Kenya to raise its agricultural productivity levels, increased use of inputs must be coupled with knowledge dissemination,” said the report.

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The global lender noted that defective Government policies, including a skewed fertiliser subsidy that has encouraged corruption rather than boost food security in the country, is to blame for dwindling harvests.

“This (decline in productivity) is due to production-related shocks and lacklustre results from ongoing government interventions to promote fertiliser use,” read part of the survey.

Rather than helping deserving poor smallholder farmers increase their yields and break from the poverty cycle, subsidised fertiliser has only benefited farmers holding medium-to-large sized farms. The fertiliser subsidy programme was established in 2008 with about 1.3 billion tonnes of the input valued at Sh31 billion having been purchased and distributed.   

Dr Ladisy Komba, the lead agricultural economist for the World Bank, said under the subsidy programme, which is managed by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), 70 per cent of the fertiliser goes mainly to maize growing, leaving the rest of the crops without any of the vital input. The subsidy programme, as many Government programmes, has been characterised by inefficiencies.

In the current season, most farmers have grown their maize without fertiliser following delayed importation of the cheap input.  Farmers were forced to purchase commercial fertiliser at Sh3,200 per 50kg bag even as the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Mwangi Kiunjuri blamed Treasury for delaying to disburse the funds.

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Moreover, because the commercial price of fertiliser is higher than the subsidy price, it has created an incentive for diversion and reselling, leading to crowding out of the private sector. For example, while a bag of DAP is going at Sh3,200, the Government is selling it at Sh1,500. “What signal is the government sending to the private sector?” posed the report.

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World BankmaizeNational Cereals and Produce Board