Farmers at crossroads over delayed rains

A farmer weeds at her mixed-cropped farm in Kosele village, Kasipul in Homabay County on May 03, 2015. [File, Standard]

Farmers are at a crossroads as delayed rains and claims of fake fertilisers and seeds plague the current planting season.

There are fears the turn of events could jeopardise food security and worsen the high cost of living, even as various government entities struggle to find a solution.

Some farmers who had already planted crops in late February following pints of rains that had confused them for long rains, are mulling replanting following a prolonged spell of drought.

Interviews with several farmers established that they are worried over possibility of huge losses as a result of the woes hitting the agriculture sector. This has been worsened by the difficulty in accessing genuine subsidised fertilisers after an intricate web of criminals started selling fake fertilisers and seeds.

They claim that government stores that sell subsidised fertilisers do not have stocks and have subjected them to several days of wait and long queues.

Farmers in Western, Nyanza, and Rift Valley regions claimed some of the fertilisers they had bought could not dissolve even after several days and believe they were fake fertilisers.

So dire is the situation that the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) has intercepted 18 metric tonnes of counterfeit seeds and arrested 65 suspects in different parts of the country in the last three weeks.

The agency claims those behind the illegal trade are sabotaging the economy and threatening food security. But as this happens, farmers are a worried lot as even as long queues to access subsidised fertiliser, changed varieties, and reports of fake inputs left agricultural producers in confusion.

In Rift Valley, one of the country’s bread baskets, farmers claimed they had fallen victim to the fake inputs.

“We fail to understand how fake fertilizer can infiltrate into government stores in some parts of the country. This causes doubts among farmers on the products they have already bought,” said Ben Sirma, a farmer from Tuikoin in Trans Nzoia County.

Some farmers are reportedly going for expensive fertiliser in the market because of mistrust and fears about quality and also the tedious process of accessing the subsidised inputs.

Daniel Bett, a farmer in Njoro sub-county, says the process of getting fertilizers at the produce board has –long-drown out for farmers.

“There is no fertiliser at the National Cereals and Produce Board. Even when you receive the message and go to their offices here in Nakuru, you will either get half the fertiliser or none at all,” Bett said.

Another farmer from Lawina Ng’ongo’ngeri, Mark Chelimo said many of them have been forced to get alternative fertilisers and seeds as the subsidised ones are not enough.

Ben Bowen, another farmer from Uasin Gishu County said 70 percent of challenges in fertiliser is blamed on the government. “Farmers pay 100 per cent of the subsidised fertiliser before accessing it from government stores, why should there be shortages leading to crowding at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores? It is not a debt, why shortage?” queried Bowen.

Bowen said the government ought to allow private investors to handle procurement and distribution of fertiliser, which he said, will be more efficient in distribution.

“Government should only monitor and check the standards of fertiliser to ensure quality for good productivity. There is need for transparency and the sector should be made agribusiness. Farmers, need to be told factory prices and the subsidy,” added Bowen.

He said at the moment, few private stockists have fertilizer that is sold at high rates due to demand by some farmers who want to do timely planting especially in South Rift.

Kipkorir Menjo, the Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director also said the government should stay away from the ‘fertiliser subsidy business’.

“The government currently imports, regulates, vets farmers and distributes subsidized fertilizer. Why should there be claims of fake products? Private sector should be allowed to procure and distribute. It will be easy to apprehend cartels,” said Menjo.

Kesses MP Julius Ruto assured farmers of the good quality of government subsidized fertilizer. “Fertiliser distributed by the government is soil specific and I urge county governments to engage agricultural extension officers to enlighten farmers on the fartiliser varieties,” said Ruto.

Subsidised fertiliser currently distributed include Fomi Otesha, Mavuno and NPK. Last year, varieties under the subsidy program included Yara Micro plus, Kyno maize, ETG 23:23:0, KNTC 23:23:0, NPK 17:17:17 and YaraMilla Power.

In the Western region, some officials have dismissed claims of an influx of fake fertilizers even as residents complain about the difficulty in accessing fertilizers.

Kakamega Agriculture CEC, Benjamin Andama told the press that he would open a store containing the 700 bags of fertiliser which locals and the police feared was fake and could lead to poor yield.

Titus Omengo the county director of farm input was however measured in his utterances saying: “We will immediately stop the distribution of the fertiliser the (government chemist) results turn out that the fertiliser is fake.”

Residents had complained that the fertiliser they received from the devolved unit could not dissolve and had sand-like particles.

Malava OCPD Paul Mwenda said detectives secured the store after receiving complaints from locals over the suspected plant food. “The DCI has come to take samples for forensics investigations following the outcry. We were rushing to court to get an order to get access to the store but returned when the county official with the key finally presented himself and opened it for the investigations,” he said.

Regional DCI boss Benard Korir said the crackdown on suspected fake fertiliser had been mounted across the county. “I bought eight bags of the 25-kg packaged fertiliser on March 5 at Sh1,920 each. I opened one of them after hearing complaints from other farmers that it contained stone-like particles that couldn’t dissolve. I put it in water and true to their word the samples could not dissolve. Since I had not lost the receipt and not used them all, I walked to this store for a refund but no one wants to attend to me,” said Nathan Maloba, from Chemuche Ward.

Kholera MCA Kasim Tingili claimed they have received several complaints from farmers claiming that the fertilisers they have received cannot even dissolve.

[Reports by Titus Too, Robert Amalemba, Kennedy Gachuhi and Patrick Beja]

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