Ruto's food security hopes facing storm amid fake fertiliser scam

Farmers in Mugamba Ciura village, Murinduko in Kirinyaga angered after buying goat compost manure mixed with sand from NCPB depot in Embu disguised as subsidized fertilizer. [Jane Mugambi, Standard]

Food security features prominently on President William Ruto’s agenda, with the Kenya Kwanza administration seeking more agricultural investment.

While launching the fourth Medium Term Plan last week, the President made a pitch for enhancing agriculture through several government interventions.

“Emphasis will be given to promotion of agro-processing and strengthening of extension services, provision of quality and affordable farm inputs, cooperative development and management, market access and logistics support, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, adoption of climate-smart agriculture, enhanced agricultural financing, and agricultural mechanisation research and development,” said Dr Ruto.

The administration seeks to increase agricultural productivity and agro-processing to boost maize production to 50 million bags in 2028 from 34 million in 2023. The government further hopes to double rice production to 400,000 metric tonnes from the current 192,299 metric tonnes and increase tea production to 745,000 metric tonnes from 535,000. 

But even as the President tries to achieve his ambitious plans and cut by half the Sh500 billion Kenya spends on importing food annually, there’s a storm threatening to make a joke of Ruto’s food security agenda.

And it is unfolding at the most inopportune time: the planting season, when farmers hope to reap big, but are now staring at uncertainties. Last week featured cries by farmers countrywide over sale of fake fertiliser and seeds.

In some instances, farmers report soil and stones instead of fertiliser, even as others complain that whatever they bought as fertiliser has damaged their farms and killed crops. Similarly, there have been allegations of fake seeds that farmers say have failed to germinate. Many say they are stranded in such situations. “Farmers didn’t know they were buying soil instead of fertiliser… one surprising thing is that this fertiliser was being bought through the National Cereals and Produce Board-NCPB),” former Westlands MP Fred Gumo said on Monday during the requiem mass of former KTN journalist Rita Tinina.

His remarks came days after the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party demanded resignation of Cabinet Secretaries Mithika Linturi (Agriculture) and Rebecca Miano (Trade) over the allegations.

“In the current situation, the entire government seems helpless, maybe deliberately so. All the President has offered in recent days is that those behind the fake seeds and fertilisers will face the music they deserve and that they will be dealt with firmly, effectively and conclusively - just high-sounding words; empty talk on a matter of serious national security,” said National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.

And in the wake of persistent criticism, the government yesterday suspended distribution of fertiliser supplied by Ken Chemical Ltd. In a letter to the firm, Agriculture Principal Secretary Kipronoh Ronoh said their product was allegedly substandard.

“Following a spot visit by Ministry staff led by the Principal Secretary to counties and National Cereals and Produce Board stores, it was established that the above fertilizer being distributed under subsidy programme may not be meeting the required standards as earlier indicated,” said Ronoh.

“Your institution is requested to suspend the distribution of this fertiliser with immediate effect. Additionally, you are required to carry out a investigation to ascertain the specifications of this fertiliser before being re-introduced the programme,” he added.
Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said President Ruto must answer to questions on fake fertiliser as the buck stops with him. “You can’t gag us from speaking about an issue that affects Kenyans as much as this fertiliser one does. When you have issues with the government as we do, you must pose them to the one leading the government,” said Sifuna.
Speaking during the burial of Rita Tinina in Narok yesterday, the opposition politicians castigated the government for failing the farmers. Nominated Senator Crystal Asige said: “The government has suspended distribution of subsidised fertiliser. That is an admission of guilt.”

Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua added; “We want a government that is responsive, responsible and that which treats its farmers and the critical masses fairly. The truth is that the fertiliser being said to be fake, is not fake, it is not fertiliser in the first place.” 

However,  Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi refuted the claims of government selling fake fertilisers. Speaking in Nakuru after visiting the Elburgon NCPB depot on Tuesday, he said the government is supplying certified and standard fertiliser through the subsidised programme.
“There is no fake subsidised fertiliser in the market,” Linturi said.

He called on farmers not to fall for unsubstantiated claims that the subsidized fertiliser was fake. “Our farmers should desist from physical observation of fertiliser and making assumptions of its quality; those individuals doubting the quality of the fertiliser should avail it to laboratories for assessments,” Linturi said.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards had earlier confirmed existence of fake fertilisers in the market, saying it had seized 5,840 bags from NCPB depots countrywide, even as it distanced itself from the scandal.

Then there is the five per cent withholding tax on agricultural produce that recently riled up avocado farmers in Mt Kenya when Kenya Revenue Authority officers attempted to educate them on the use of the electronic Tax Invoice Management System (e-Tims).

The subject would escalate into a hot potato issue, with lawmakers from the region facing pressure over their role in passing the provision through the Finance Act of 2023.

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