Maize farmers ask for better prices and more subsidies to make a profit

Maize farmer Thomas Boen in Uasin Gishu County on August 31, 2023. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

For the country’s cereals producers, the year has presented mixed fortunes. 

Distribution of subsidised fertiliser, good weather, uncontrolled rise in fuel prices, and the reopening of the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots amid competitive prices in the informal sector are among the factors that defined their income. 

Despite the good producer prices, farmers in the North Rift feel returns from the agricultural sub-sector are not commensurate to their toil and year-long wait from their sole means of income. 

Maize producers across the country, who were registered under the Agriculture Ministry, were able to access fertiliser subsidies through an e-voucher system and in good time ahead of the long rains. 

The input came with an affordable price of Sh3,500 per 50kg bag compared to prices of as high as Sh7,000 in the previous year. 

The government’s efforts to ensure access to subsidised fertilizer on time was a good intention to lower the costs of ugali, but farmers and stakeholders still maintain that maize would remain costly due to other factors of production. 

More than a month ago, the ministry, through NCPB opened stores for procurement of maize harvests at a producer price of Sh4,000 per 90kg bag. 

However, NCPB in North Rift has received only about 100,000 bags of 50 kgs. This is because farmers have shunned NCPB, opting for private buyers offering between Sh4,100 and Sh4,300 at the farm gate without conditions. 

“The government intervened by availing subsidised fertiliser on time, and farmers recorded better yields in the current season. The cost of fuel has gone up hence diminishing gains of subsidised fertiliser. There are also other costly operations in the sector,” said Kipkorir Menjo.

The Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director said if fuel prices continue to rise, land preparation in the coming season will be affected, thus food production.

Farmers have lauded the government, but they say more needs to be done to keep them in business.

Thomas Bowen, a large-scale farmer from Tapsagoi in Turbo, said maize prices could hit over Sh5,500.

“Maize prices have appreciated and now retails at Sh4,200 at the farm gate. Some farmers are selling to meet their immediate needs and have kept stocks anticipating better prices shortly,” said Boen.

Monicah Koech from Mumetet in Uasin Gishu admitted she recorded improved yield in the current season due to the blended variety of subsidised fertiliser and adequate rains. 

“My maize plantation had good foliage and I realised improved yields after the season,” said Koech.

Samuel Chemweno from Moiben observed that there was uniformity in crop development following the use of blended fertiliser.  “The crop development was good throughout the season, and the subsidised fertiliser gave better yields compared to the past use of DAP." 

But despite the subsidy, operation costs remain high and continue to demoralise producers. 

According to David Mulwo, he spent Sh70,000 per acre to produce 20 bags of maize, hence selling produce at Sh4,000 a bag will yield a profit of only Sh10,000 after a year's wait.

“It's like the government is only giving us back what we spent to produce," he said, adding that he would rather venture into planting maize and livestock feeds to boost his dairy production.

Menjo said there is a need for the government to consider the introduction of fuel subsidies to ease the cost of producing food.

“In the past, fuel was subsidised for agricultural production. If the current rise in price is not controlled, acreage for food production could drastically reduce in the coming season,” he said.

He said farmers need to be allowed to redeem e-vouchers from private agrovets to enhance the distribution of inputs.

Boen said the early warning over El Nino rains led to rushed harvesting by most farmers. “Some farmers who lacked storage facilities sold produce while green in the farms. Others dried and sold it to avoid post-harvest losses, hence there is a likelihood of maize shortage.”

While launching mobile dryers in Uasin Gishu recently, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said the government had advertised tenders for procurement of next season’s fertiliser.

“We will enhance early distribution. The national government will work with counties and farmers’ cooperatives to ensure easy access,” said Linturi, adding that over six million farmers have been registered.

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