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Study reveals farmers' pain amid cereal glut

By Dominic Omondi | Nov 1st 2018 | 3 min read
By Dominic Omondi | November 1st 2018

Smallholder maize farmers suffered massive losses after they spent more to produce a bag of maize than they sold it in the open market.

A survey by Tegemeo Institute, an agricultural policy and development think-tank, indicates farmers spent Sh1,366 to produce a bag of maize but sold it at Sh1,250.  

Small-holder farmers produce more than 70 per cent of the 44 million bags of maize produced in the country annually.

It is even worse for small-scale farmers in Trans Nzoia, who rented land to grow the cereal, lured by prospects of better returns. The farmers had hoped to cash in on high prices after a drought  depressed harvests.

The Egerton University-affiliated institute estimated production costs for rented land in Trans Nzoia at Sh2,161, meaning the farmers suffered 44 per cent loss per bag.

Generally, for an acre of land, a small-scale farmer spent about Sh24,592 on inputs, according to Tegemeo’s calculation. Labour took up a huge fraction of this spending at Sh8,938 followed by machinery such as hiring of tractors for tilling at Sh5,288.

Besides rent and labour, other production costs of planting maize were fertiliser, seeds, herbicides and machinery. 

Large-scale farmers who rented land have not been spared despite producing their grains at comparatively lower costs. The assessment by Tegemeo showed total production costs per bag on rented land for the large-scale farmers was Sh2,083.

Previous assessments by the institute have shown large-scale maize farmers sell their produce to National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and millers, where their grains fetch better prices.  

There is currently an oversupply of maize due to what experts attribute to aggressive production of the cereal after farmers increased the acreage under maize lured by high prices last year.

The maize glut has also been blamed on a defective maize subsidy programme that saw the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich open up the borders for entry of cheap maize from as far as Mexico. Kenya imported 15 million bags of maize valued at Sh39.6 billion.

Big trouble

Furious farmers expressed disappointment over the pitfalls of maize farming at a recent Senate Committee sitting in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County. “We are in big trouble. There is maize in the stores, there is maize at NCPB cereals, and there is maize that awaits harvesting,” said one farmer.

Although renting of land is not as popular with the majority of smallholder farmers, Mr Njagi said there are those who still rent land of small acreage.

Maize, used to prepare the country’s staple of ugali, is currently rotting in various stores as farmers have nowhere to sell their produce at acceptable prices.

Most farmers are eagerly waiting for the Government to announce its price, hoping that it will offer them better prices than the prevailing market ones. However, this will not solve the current problem as the Government cannot mop up all the maize in the market.

Overall, production cost per bag for a smallholder farmer was Sh1,366. A smallholder farmer in Nakuru spent the least per bag of maize at Sh1,219. Production cost in Trans Nzoia was Sh1,572 while their counterparts in Uasin Gishu spent Sh1,527.

The institute also assessed the cost of Irish potatoes and rice between March and August. Nyandarua, Nakuru, Uasin-Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties were assessed in the study.

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