Food security fears as farmers struggle with high cost of inputs

A farmer ploughing in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Maize and wheat farmers across the most productive parts of the South Rift region are preparing to plant their crops even as the prices of farm inputs such as fertiliser and herbicides go through the roof.

Farmers and suppliers say the high prices of inputs could complicate the planting season but are optimistic quick interventions by the State and players in the agricultural sector, may minimise the damage.

The costs of farm inputs have hit astronomical heights and now threaten to affect the county’s food security. At the heart of the farmers’ woes is the cost of fertiliser. A 50 kg of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) planting fertiliser now retails at Sh6,000 up from between Sh2,500 and Sh3,000 in the last planting season.

Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) topdressing fertiliser now retails at Sh4,200 up from Sh1,700 the last season. Agriculture Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mr Peter Munya’s said the ministry requires Sh3.8 billion to stabilise the prices.

If this is not done, the CS warned that the price for DAP fertiliser could rise to Sh7,000 due to the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions that followed.

Russia produces 40 per cent of the potash used in the manufacture of fertiliser.

But even before then, the prices of farm inputs had forced small-scale farmers such as Mr Bernard Chepkwony, a maize farmer from Ainamoi Constituency in Kericho County to scale down his venture.

“I simply cannot afford the cost of farm inputs and other costs. This year, I will reduce the acres of maize farm from three to one. The maize will be only for my family’s consumption,” he said. Mr Chepkwony says he made the drastic decision after calculating that he will now require Sh36,000 to purchase six bags of fertiliser alone up from the Sh18,000, he used on the same last year.

“I also noted that I will also require an additional Sh3,000 to plough, the three acres of land after the tractor owners hiked the cost of ploughing an acre of land from Sh3,000 to Sh4,000 due to rising cost of fuel,” he said.

This means that the farmer who in the good old times used to harvest 90 bags of maize from his three acres will now only produce 30 bags of maize - most of which will be consumed by his household with little left to sell. James Bowen, a large scale farmer in Rongai Sub-County, Nakuru County has not yet started preparing his 100-acre land although it is mid-March.

Mr Bowen, who farms maize and wheat, says he cannot afford to hire a tractor or other machinery because of the high fuel prices. “The fuel price is high, meaning we cannot hire machines at the moment. Before we used to hire a tractor for Sh2,400 per acre but the prices have gone high to Sh3,300,” he said.

Another reason for him not beginning land preparation is the high cost of fertiliser, which he says is too dear for him. “By now, the land is usually ready for cultivation but see, I have not started yet because I am waiting for lenient prices,” he said.

He noted that in 2021, the price of fertiliser was only Sh3,000 but it has now increased to Sh6,500. Bowen has spread farm manure on his 100-acre farm to reduce the usage of fertiliser.

“If I use manure, I will reduce the number of bags of fertiliser from 70 to only 50. That is my plan as I wait for the price to reduce,” he said.

Mr Bowen said he has been forced to change the variety of seeds to ensure they adapt to the condition of the soil.

Withered maize at a farm in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. [File, Standard]

Ms Zipporah Limo, a small scale farmer in the Ngata area is still feeling the effect of the low production of maize in her three-acre farm.

She is worried because she cannot afford the fertiliser, and she is still unsure whether the weather will be on her side this year. “I did not have enough maize to eat nor to sell and I do not have money to do the production because of fuel and fertiliser prices,” she said.

In a good year, she harvests is between 20 and 25 bags per acre. However, last year, she only managed 10 bags for her entire farm. Last year, she used up to Sh97,530 for her three acres and she feels this year, she may use more but make a loss.

Daudi Kenda, a millet farmer from Soin-Sigowet Constituency is also in the same boat. “To this moment in time, I haven’t even thought of preparing my land for planting,” he said.

The farmer who comes from a remote area where roads are impassable and oxen are still used to plough land says there isn’t any relief.

“Bulls for ploughing are no longer even easy to come by. The few villagers who own them have also hiked their prices. They charge Sh5,000 to plough an acre of land. This is Sh1,000 more than even what tractors owner charge,” said Kenda. Use of herbicide for Kenda before planting is not an option either.

Wesly Ngetich of Paksons Enterprises which deals in animal feeds, agrochemicals, seeds, maize, and other farm inputs, said all the herbicides prices had gone up by 100 per cent

Joel Chepkwony, a coffee farmer is not lucky either. “In previous years, I would spend Sh14,000 on DAP fertiliser as well as CAN for top dressing. Today, I will require to spend Sh15,000 on CAN topdressing fertiliser alone,” he said. Coffee farming expenses include the cost of pesticides for the farmer’s coffee plantation which has shot from 1,500 to Sh2,800.

Pruning, labour, and transportation cost of coffee to the coffee mill are also a new headache for Chepkwony and fellow farmers.

Though he makes about Sh100,000 from the coffee, the high costs will slash the profit by more than half. “What will remain will not be even enough to pay high school fees for my child,” Chepkwony said.

As the farmers tighten their belts for tough financial times, Yarra East Africa commercial manager Peter Rotich said the company will offer some relief to farmers by slashing the price of 50kg fertiliser by Sh500.

Rotich said they have adequate fertiliser after receiving a shipment of 15,000 tonnes of fertiliser ahead of the planting season.

Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony said through the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project, his regime had secured a grant of Sh37.2 million for local farmers. Previously, Sh156.5 million was disbursed to 274 farmer groups. The support includes the donation of 97 dairy goats worth Sh1.6 million to 13 farmer groups.