Maize farmers wait for relief from new regime

Uasin Gishu maize farmer Thomas Bowen at his maize farm in Uasin Gishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

For a while now, maize farming has not been a walk in the park. From high cost of fertiliser and other inputs, to drought and poor prices at the market, it has been tough.

Agriculture was bogged down by so many challenges, little wonder during elections period, it took a centre stage.

The Smart Harvest caught up with a number of farmers in North Rift who shared their frustrations and expectations from the next government.

Thomas Bowen, a maize farmer from Kosachei in Uasin Gishu county says the journey has not been a walk in the park.

Bowen says successive regimes have not given agriculture a key sector, the attention it deserves to guarantee the country food security.

With the country on the verge of ushering in a new government, Bowen says he is hopeful that the new government will make a difference in the lives of farmers.

"I ventured into maize farming 30 years ago, starting with an acre," says Bowen.

"Although I have expanded to about 40 acres -mostly by leasing- I must admit that it has been a journey of low moments with poor earnings, high cost of inputs and operation costs."

Thomas Bowen maize farm in Uasin Gishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

He notes that successive regimes have made enticing pledges only to leave farmers at the mercy of exploitative businessmen.

"It was only during the late President Mwai Kibaki's regime that farmers witnessed implementation of good policies that saw us access affordable inputs through subsidies.

The prices were good since the state stabilised it through purchase of Strategic Food Reserves (SFR) stocked at National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores," he says.

Bowen claims that cereals producers were most frustrated in Jubilee administration's 10 years, where both county and national government officials advocated diversification into avocado, macadamia and other horticultural production instead of addressing woes in the maize sub-sector.

Maize ignored

"Top agricultural officials and leaders often tell us to diversify into avocados and now all efforts have been directed towards that at the expense of maize farming. With attention now shifted to such high value crops, maize has been ignored," he adds.

Bowen hopes that whoever takes power will restore hopes of farmers and revamp agriculture.

According to Bowen, in the first 100 days, the new leader should prioritise key issues like high cost of fertiliser which could lead to a drop in yields during harvesting.

He notes that the country is a signatory to many treaties, including the 2003 Maputo Protocol that requires allocation of 10 per cent of annual budget to agriculture.

Jackson Kwambai, another maize farmer from Uasin Gishu, wants a complete overhaul of the sector.

"We have faced challenges year in year out. Government has failed to avail effective subsidy programme," says Kwambai.

"The E-Voucher that was introduced by Jubilee administration has failed to benefit farmers, who are always rural-based and non-conversant with the electronic registration."

Populist vs Practical

Though Raila Odinga and William Ruto teams made various pledges to farmers while on the campaign trail, Kwambai has little expectation of these 'political pledges' saying successive regimes have been big on promises and done little on delivery.

He notes that many of the pledges made were more populist than practical.

"The subsidy on maize was just a political gesture that had no value. It was more of a move to protect consumers from high cost of flour yet forgetting the producers who are the ones toiling hard on the farms and battling high cost of inputs."

In his manifesto, Ruto identified agriculture, micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), housing and settlement, healthcare, a digital superhighway, creative economy, environment and climate change and service economy, as priority areas.

"Expectation from Kenyans is huge, and we do not have the luxury of time to waste. We need to deliver on our commitment. We shall roll our sleeves, tighten our belts and pull up our socks and deliver services to Kenyans," Dr Ruto said.

Kenya Kwanza plans to invest Sh250 billion in agriculture between 2023 and 2027 to provide adequate affordable working capital to farmers, risk management systems through Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) insurance, uplifting poor population to produce food, raise crop productivity per acreage and milk volumes per cow, reduce dependency on imports and boost tea sector among others.

The high cost of inputs has had a negative impact on production, many farmers say their yields will be affected significantly.

Kwambai expects to achieve only 40 per cent in yields in the current season because he cut down on fertiliser application because it was expensive and substandard.

"The government has failed to protect farmers from substandard inputs. I engage in horticulture and the fertiliser I use no longer guarantee better yields," says the farmer.

Samuel Yego, who served as agriculture executive in the former Uasin Gishu governor Jackson Mandago's administration says there is hope for agriculture.

"The national government still hold on 85 per cent of resources meant for agriculture, which should be fully devolved.

"Counties have been receiving only 15 per cent, hence the resources that used to remain at the central government is adequate to fund programmes outlined in the manifesto," says Yego.

Yego pointed out that with the resources, programmes will be in place to ease production of food and end reliance on imports.

"Uasin Gishu alone produced 4.5 million bags of maize last season, and we expect similar output this year. There is a need to empower across the food chain and also enhance strategic food reserves to curb shortages as witnessed this year," he says.

Samuel Rono, an agricultural expert said challenges in the sector will be fully addressed once programmes are put in place to lower cost of production, support farmer organisations, groups, cooperative societies and value addition industries.

"Most of our products are still sold raw and cartels have taken advantage of the vulnerable farmers.

"The government can invest in chilling rooms to facilitate storage of perishable goods and processing them to finished products to fetch better prices," Rono says.

He says under GMR initiative, the government can empower farmers by topping up the cost of product outlets to hike producer prices. This, he says, will protect both producers and consumers from unnecessary exploitation.

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