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Food experts warn over fertiliser shortage

Sunday March 17 2019

Tractors till a farm

Tractors till a farm at Chepkanga in Uasin Gishu County in readiness for the maize planting season, starting last week. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

BARNABAS BII
By BARNABAS BII
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Planting Kenya’s staple food crop, maize, without fertiliser is a recipe for hunger, agriculture experts have warned.

This, even as the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture trade accusations on procurement of crucial farm inputs.

Food experts are warning of a decline in maize yields next season after some farmers started planting without applying the subsidised nutrient. The farmers said business people took advantage of the absence of cheap government fertiliser in the market to increase prices.

“We are staring at a looming disaster since most farmers have embarked on maize planting without fertiliser. Some of them have been forced to reduce the acreage under maize due to lack of capital,” said Mr Ezekiel Kosgei, an Eldoret-based private land economist.

Grain farmers have blamed the government over failure to resolve legal procedures after the Attorney General objected to the Agriculture Ministry importing fertiliser through flawed procurement processes involving the firms offered the contract.

“We fail to understand why the government is always trapped in this vicious cycle of uncoordinated availability of subsidised fertiliser every planting season,” said Mr Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director.

According to the Director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Johnstone Irungu, maize production increased from 37 million bags to 40.9 million bags last season. He attributed the rise to availability of subsidised fertiliser, favourable weather during planting and control of disease outbreaks.

But grain farmers have been thrown into confusion after the Ministry of Agriculture said that a decision was yet to be made on whether to purchase the cheap fertiliser as the planting season commences in most parts of the region.

The government put on hold importation of 150,000 tonnes of fertiliser over irregularities in tendering. Agro-dealers have taken advantage of the decision to import the fertiliser and make huge profits due to increased demand by farmers.

Although fertiliser prices are determined by market forces, a bag of DAP is costing Sh3,500 in most shops in the North Rift region.

Government-subsidised fertiliser goes for Sh1,800 per bag but is missing from the market.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said senior department officials are to hold a crisis meeting to strategise on the purchase of the farm inputs.

“We are faced with challenges in the purchase of fertiliser and we shall be holding a meeting in Nairobi to explore the best method to procure the fertiliser within the law. We will be ensuring that farmers get top-dressing fertiliser (CAN) in good time,” disclosed the CS.

The Treasury released an additional Sh2 billion last week to the Ministry of Agriculture to procure the fertiliser.