Farmers hopeful as Ruto's food agenda unfolds, but ask for more

President William Ruto drives a tractor at Kijiwetanga, Kilifi County, August 2014. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

With the fertiliser now selling at Sh2,500 per 50kg bag, President William Ruto’s keeping his promise to revitalise agriculture.

Farmers can take advantage of the new prices to make the most of the short rains season, expected from October.

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is already distributing the fertilizer at the new rates, and says it has adequate stocks across its depots in the North Rift region. It is timely for potato, bean and vegetable farmers.

Before the prices reduced, farmers were forced to dig deeper into their pockets, others reduced production acreage while some adjusted recommended application rations as they could not afford the commodity what was selling at between Sh7,000 and Sh8,000, depending on variety and location.

President Ruto recently directed that the prices be further reduced from Sh3,500.

Gilbert Rotich, the NCPB North Rift regional manager, said there was enough stock of all varieties.

“Planting and top dressing government subsidised fertiliser is now available in all stores. Prices have been lowered from Sh3,500 to Sh2,500 as farmers prepare for short-season crops, including beans, potatoes and vegetables, among others,” he said.

Farmers have hailed the government, saying the blended varieties of fertiliser had resulted in good crop yield.

“The President’s agenda on food production is yielding good results. We expect good harvests and food prices have already dropped in some areas of Western Kenya where harvesting has already started,” said Stanley Ngombe, a farmer from Nandi County.

Ngombe, who is also the chairman of the Kenya Dairy Farmers Federation, said they expect prices of livestock feed to drop further because farmers can now afford to produce adequate pasture.

He also noted that most farmers are also using maize stalks for silage-making.

But some farmers lament that the coast of other inputs, including fuel, labour and chemicals, remained high.

“The fertiliser subsidy was made available in good time at Sh3,500 for the current season. Fuel, seeds, farm machinery and labour costs remained very high and current season producer price should not be below Sh4,000 per 90kg bag for it to be profitable,” said Thomas Boen of Uasin Gishu.

He asked the government not to buy their maize at a lower price. “Reduction of fertiliser prices should not be used as a reason to lower maize prices. We incur other hefty expenses, and the government ought to ensure producer prices remain above Sh4,000.”

Fredrick Rono, a maize farmer in Trans Nzoia County, said the high cost of fuel is a major obstacle to agriculture, adding that it forms about 80 per cent of production costs.

He noted that fuel is required to transport fertiliser, ploughing, harrowing, planting, spraying, transporting the crop after harvest, shelling and transporting the produce to the market, among others.

"We are happy that the government provided subsidised fertilizer that has improved yields, but there is little to celebrate because fuel is a big component in farming remains unaffordable," he said.

Tom Nyagechaga of the Kenya National Federation of Farmers also argued that the government's agenda will only be achieved if fuel prices come down.

"If there is something that the government is supposed to do to transform agriculture and make Kenyan farmers happy is to reduce the cost of fuel. Otherwise, its pledge to revolutionise agriculture will remain a dream," said Nyagechaga.

Nyagechaga also said agrochemicals used in weeding and controlling diseases and pests remain costly.

Kesses MP Julius Rutto urged the government to stop importation of cereals as local farmers anticipate a bumper harvest.

“In about a month, local maize produce will be ready for the market. We are currently experiencing a deficit of maize, and I know there is constant importation from outside the country. We ask Agriculture and Trade Ministries to stop allowing further importation,” said Rutto.