Farmers ask: Where's Ruto's subsidised fertiliser?

File: Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi (Centre) visits Intracom fertiliser factory in Dodoma, Tanzania during a fact-finding mission on February 3, 2023. [Jacinta Mutura,Standard]

While many subsidies were flung out the window immediately after the William Ruto administration took over power, a fertiliser subsidy, which had been mentioned incessantly during campaigns, was introduced and The National Treasury released Sh3.6 billion for its implementation.

President Ruto spoke about his government’s negotiations with Morocco to promote relations in trade, agriculture, health, tourism and energy between Kenya and the North African country.

Key among the products Kenya would receive at a cheaper price was fertiliser. Morocco is its biggest producer in Africa.

Farmers would only need to pay Sh3,500 for a 50kg bag of fertiliser, down from Sh6,500. It was to be a double delight for farmers who sighted rains and readied for planting. But nearly half a year later, the fertiliser is yet to reach some of those who needed it most.

No fertiliser

In the semi-arid Kieni West sub-county in Nyeri, farmers say they saw rains come and go as they waited for the farm input. Agricultural and veterinary products stores (Agrovets) still stock fertilisers they have sourced from private distributors and the costs remain high, a spot-check shows.

Bernard Maina, a farmer who also runs a small Agrovet, says he registered his business in anticipation of the subsidised product that was to be ferried to him for registered farmers to collect.

However, he has not received any further information on the progress of the process of delivering the fertilisers and is yet to set eyes on the cheaper product.

“The registered farmers pay to the government and are directed to the Agrovet to then pick the amount they have paid for. That fertiliser is shipped here by the government. My commission will be paid by the government,” he says.

Samuel Kiruri, who also owns an Agrovet in the same sub-county, expected the burden on the farmer to ease sooner. To this day, he sells a 50kg bag of Di-ammonium Phosphate fertiliser (DAP) at Sh6,500 and that of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) at Sh5,500.

“A fortnight ago, farmers were visited so they could be interrogated on the crops they grow and the acreages to determine what fertilisers are needed there. Once that was done, we (the Agrovet owners) were to be told what will be done next but we have not received any communication since,” he says.

The farmers would then be directed to an Agrovet from where they will pick their fertilisers.

Kiruri also says he has previously worked with The Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP), a government project jointly supported by the World Bank for a fertiliser distribution programme.

“In KCSAP, they give you a quotation and once you supply the fertiliser, they then give you a cheque that you can bank,” he says.

What he does not know is if the government will honour its part of the deal in good time once farmers have collected their fertilisers from Agrovets.

Maina thinks that the process could be wrought with uncertainty and some quarters may receive the short end of the stick in the short to medium term.

In late September 2022, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua flagged off the first consignment of the Sh3.6 billion subsidised fertiliser as the government pledged to supply 1.4 million bags of fertilisers to farmers in the country.

Kenya had been battling a drought that in 2021 left over 4.5 million in need of immediate food aid. A sustained dependence on rain-fed agriculture continued to cripple the sector, with the trifecta of Covid-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and climate change leading to hiking levels of food inflation.

It was labelled the worst drought in over four decades.

The new government, while explaining its decision to scrap fuel and flour subsidies, explained that it was keen on lowering the cost of production and not consumption.

Supporting farmers through availing inputs such as fertilisers was a critical step in lowering the cost of food.

The inflation rate has since dipped to under nine per cent, according to Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) data, at 8.98 per cent in January 2023, the lowest rate since September 2022.  

The subsidised fertiliser was to be distributed through the National Cereals and Produce Board depots countrywide. The subsidy and distribution programme was effected on Monday, September 19.

Then Agriculture Ministry Acting Principal Francis Owino said the government’s Sh3.6 billion input would subsidise 71,000 tonnes of fertiliser  “to support the cultivation of approximately 1.4 million acres.”

“The subsidised fertiliser programme will start with counties undertaking planting during the short rains season of 2022,” he said.

But it has emerged that Kenya could potentially import fertiliser from Tanzania next year. Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi said last week the newly constructed factory in Dodoma, Intracom Fertiliser, would help alleviate a shortage of fertiliser.

Linturi said Kenya spends more than Sh80.5 billion per year on fertiliser imports. 

Kenyan small-scale farmers, who contribute to over 70 per cent of the total marketed agricultural produce at 73.1 per cent according to The 2022 Economic Survey, still await a steady supply of subsidised fertiliser.

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