High production costs, changing climate patterns, pests, diseases and poor marketing have derailed the production of maize.
Though farmers in maize-producing regions have mastered weather patterns to strike a balance every maize season, achieving optimal production and good returns to the agribusiness venture have proven unattainable.
Cornelius Kering, a farmer who leased a farm for maize production in Soy, said they cannot make it even as the cost of inputs skyrocket while maize prices drop.
“From the seven acres I leased in Soy, I expect to harvest an average of 150 bags of maize, each 90kg. But the current market price is too low at Sh1,800. I will be prompted to store until it improves towards the beginning of next year,” said Kering.
He said the dry spell witnessed at the beginning of the planting season affected yields. Kering had to spend more money on chemicals to control invasion by the fall armyworm.
Kering added that an acre in Uasin Gishu produces an average of 22 to 25 bags of maize.
He said the costs are too high while the government sets producer prices without consulting farmers, hence leading to huge losses.
Lydiah Chebet, a farmer also from Soy, plants an acre of maize and complements her income by providing labour during harvesting.
“Earnings from harvesting a bag of maize last year was Sh30 per bag. Due to the high cost of living occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, those harvesting demanded to be paid Sh50 per bag this season,” Chebet said.
She urged the government to consider raising producer prices to Sh4,500 per 90kg bag, saying producers could pay better wages too.
“The cost of fertiliser and other operational costs are beyond my reach. After using planting fertiliser, I do not do top dressing. At the end of the season, I am contented with the little I harvest because I can at least feed my family,” said Chebet.
She said middlemen reap better returns since they buy from farmers immediately on harvest at Sh1,700 to Sh2,000, bulk the produce, and late sell to millers at Sh2,500.
According to most farmers in Uasin Gishu County, producing a bag of maize costs them at least Sh 2,900 hence buying at Sh 2,500 is a loss.
Thomas Korgoren, a maize and wheat farmer in Uasin Gishu claims the government has ignored farmers thus aggravating poverty levels.
“Farming is business and before the government announces producer prices, it should consider production costs for farmers to generate better returns. For long, farmers have been ignored and millers have taken advantage, offering low prices,” noted Korgoren.
He said agriculture is a source of employment for more than 70 percent of North Rift residents who rely on maize sales for school fees, health, travel, upkeep among other obligations and that whenever a need arises, most farmers dispose of produce at prices that are below production costs.
“If the government is willing to assist farmers, it should get closer to farmers. Elected leaders should push for good policies that will assist both produces and consumers,” said Korgoren, who also aggregates wheat and maize from farmers and late sells them to millers at prevailing market prices.
Kibet Arap Too, a Uasin Gishu farmer, said challenges in the sub-sector are not new, saying elected leaders and authorities have failed to act and offer solutions.