Kenya’s perennial maize shortage crisis may deepen as farmers in the North Rift, the country’s grain basket, shift to other more profitable ventures.
As the country struggles with persistent maize shortage and consequent high prices of unga, farmers are moving away from production of this crop due to poor returns amid cheap imports.
Unpredictable prices, post-harvest losses, the Lethal Maize Necrosis Disease (LMND) and fall army worms are among the issues that push maize farmers into other agricultural ventures, especially in dairy and sugarcane farming.
Asbel Makau, a farmer in Nandi, says he has since reduced his maize production acreage for dairy production. “I prefer dairy farming because it generates better income compared to maize. Although I practice both in small scale, I normally convert portions of my maize plantation into fodder for animal feeds. I grind stalks and green cobs for silage for my livestock. This enhances production,” says Makau, a farmer from Kebulonik area.
Maize producers have always raised concerns over unpredictable prices and production costs that include planting, weeding, harvesting, transportation and storage as the key factors that eats into their profits.
“To reduce the cost of buying animal feeds, I have to cut my maize crop to prepare silage for my livestock especially for the dry season. The dairy sector generates more income than maize,” said Job Kosgei, a farmer in Trans Nzoia.
He said demand for milk has since lured cereals producers into dairy farming, which generates income within short intervals.
In Trans Nzoia County, the country’s bread basket alongside Uasin Gishu and Nandi, some farmers are moving to other crops such as sugarcane.
“Maize farming is no-longer profitable. The prices are poor and we feel abandoned by the Government. Brokers have taken advantage of us,” laments Peter Ruto.
Fifteen years ago, Ruto harvested between 20 to 25 bags from an acre, but the yields have since dropped to only 15 bags.
Maize farmers feel frustrated that he Government has been insensitive to their plight. “Our efforts to replenish the country’s strategic food reserves and generate income for has been hindered by perennial challenges. It is a shame that farmers have been forced to stage street protests every season to awaken the Government,” says Christopher Kiptum, a large scale maize farmer in Uasin Gishu County
Kipkorir Menjo, a director with the Kenya Farmers Association says the agriculture sector is in dire need of reforms. He said had the Government strengthened maize producers through subsidised seeds and fertilisers and supported research for disease and pest resistant varieties, there would be no need for maize subsidy.
“The Agricultural Finance Corporation should not have been transferred to The Treasury. This move locked out most farmers from credit facilities,” he says.
Menjo also called for establishment of cooperative societies to enable farmers sell their produce collectively.
“Long queues to the depots can be avoided if farmers make deliveries through their registered cooperative societies. The societies can also handle payments to make the supply process more efficient."