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Bleak future for farmers as bad weather, economy take their toll

By Kennedy Gachuhi and Titus Too | Jan 15th 2022 | 5 min read

Priscila Ndungu a potato farmer in Elburgon on January 12, 2022.  [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Farmers in Rift Valley are bracing for yet another tough year as economic and climatic conditions continue to adversely impede the viability of agribusiness.

A sharp rise in the cost of fertiliser coupled with dry weather ahead of the next planting season expected from March could leave farmers in limbo and negatively impact the country’s food security. Anxiety has hit farmers in the North Rift, the country’s food basket, as prices of a 50kg bag of planting fertiliser sold at between Sh5,200 and Sh6,000 weeks before demand start to rise at the onset of the long rain season.

Those who spoke to The Saturday Standard said at no time has fertiliser risen to Sh6,000 saying unless the Government intervenes through a subsidy programme, the country will face an acute shortage of its staple food and poverty levels will increase.

“We are confronted by a major challenge ahead of this year’s planting season. There is shortage of fertiliser across the outlets. The little that is available is not affordable, retailing at between Sh5,200 to Sh6,000,” said Mr Thomas Boen.

Boen, a maize farmer from Kaptebee in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County said the high cost of fertiliser coupled with the increased price of fuel will push farmers out of maize production.

“Most farmers sold their produce immediately after harvest in October and November at the then price of Sh2,000 per 90kg bag and may not be able to raise resources to plow back into farming at the moment.
The farmer who cultivates 25 acres of land said he requires over Sh260,000 for the purchase of fertiliser alone, noting the price could even rise higher when demand increases when farmers start to plant.

Paul Kerich, a farmer from Nandi said the Government should come up with a farm input subsidy if it has to leave behind a good legacy after the August polls.

“At the moment, we have nothing to celebrate after electing jubilee administration for two terms. It should subsidise farm inputs and bring down the cost of fuel and fertiliser,” said Kerich.

The farmer said the coming planting season in March and April has coincided with preparations for the first term education calendar saying most parents may fore-go farming for school fees hence jeopardizing the country’s food situation. Another farmer Isaac Maritim said the Government has remained silent despite diminishing stocks of fertiliser and skyrocketing prices.

“I cultivate 50 acres of maize and will require over Sh520,000 for fertiliser alone. It has never been this high. We are not empowered and unless the Government intervenes, the country will face food shortage,” said Maritim.

The Saturday Standard caught up with Priscila Ndung’u, a potato farmer in Molo who is hoping against hope for a better year following seasons of loss-making in 2021.

“Last year was bad for every potato farmer. We had good harvests but the worst prices in history as prices dropped to as low as Sh500 per bag despite the huge investment we made,” said Ndung’u.

She explained that to properly manage an acre of potatoes one requires a minimum of Sh70,000 which at times may not be recovered after harvesting.

“Leasing an acre currently costs Sh20,000. Seeds and fertiliser will cost at least Sh35,000 while labour and chemicals for pest and disease control will cost up to Sh15,000,” said Ndung’u.

She explained that the cost of production has been pushed up by the cost of inputs and labour with fertiliser prices pressing the farmers hard.

“Labourers are now demanding Sh250 to Sh300 a day. Fertiliser prices shot from Sh3,500 to Sh5,400 by the end of last year. This leaves the farmer with a slim profit margin,” she said.

Ndung’u added that from an acre of land, most farmers harvest between 80 and 100 bags whose returns leave them struggling to save every coin possible.

“Selling 100 bags at Sh500 translates to a loss of Sh20,000 in the four months season. We always pray that the price is maintained above Sh1,000 to at least make Sh30,000 profit per season,” she said.

Josphat Kinuthia ditched maize farming last year for cabbages after a sharp drop in maize prices across the country.

“It hurts when the Government allows powerful people to flood our market with cheap imports while we are stuck with local produce. There are a lot of brokers who make a kill out of farmers’ sweat,” said Kinuthia.

He explained that maize farming was viable when the Government was providing subsidised fertiliser which retailed at Sh2,200 per 50kg bag and made most farm inputs available tax-free.

“Maize farming means a single season in a year and is laborious. I moved to cabbages which are low in production costs and in most cases have a ready market easy for a farmer to penetrate directly,” said Kinuthia.

David Maina, a peas farmer hopelessly stared at his crops which are near flowering but have not received rain for the past one and a half months.

“We have already begun the year on the wrong footing. It seems the weather will be unfriendly for the next few months which may lead to total loss in my case. For each acre I spend Sh70,000 hoping to recoup at least Sh120,000 on a normal season,” said Maina.

We found his neighbour Esther Mugure supervising his workers in installing pipes for irrigation drawing water from Landi dam.

“The hot sun is scorching my vegetables. They have begun losing colour. We always receive some short rains between Christmas and New Year. It wasn’t the case this time. There are no signs of rain any time soon,” said Mugure.

With most farms turning brown, the Meteorological department predicts that the country will not receive rains for the rest of this month leaving farmers hoping for an early rainy season in February. Mr Kipkorir Menjo, the Kenya Farmers Association director note the prices will rise to more than Sh6,000.

“If the Government does not intervene and assist farmers through a subsidy programme, most maize and wheat produces will reduce their acreage hence affecting food security,” said Menjo.

The director cited Covid-19 pandemic that affected distribution supplies chains from China and Russia that exports fetiliser to Kenya, high cost of fuel that has pushed up transport costs and depreciation of the shilling for the sharp increase in fetiliser prices.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya while speaking during the launch of the Warehouse Receipt System in Trans Nzoia County admitted that there is a problem in fertiliser price but said the government was working to address the challenge.

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