Maize farming has been thrown into more confusion after the government indefinitely suspended importation of fertilisers to give itself more time to dismantle a cartel benefiting from the subsidy.
The government’s decision caught many farmers off guard, as most were already tilling their land in anticipation of the fertilisers.
This year’s planting season is set for March and April during the heavy rains season, especially in the North Rift region.
Suspension of the subsidised fertiliser scheme means that farmers will buy the commodity at market prices of between Sh3,200 and Sh3,500 per 50kg bag of DAP, which is mostly used for planting. A subsidised bag goes for Sh1,800.
Buying the input at market prices is another blow to farmers who have not been able to sell maize from last season after the government suspended purchase of the cereal following a scandal that hit the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
On Monday top Ministry of Agriculture officials insisted that there would be no cheaper fertiliser, which had been supplied through the NCPB.
The Chief Administrative Secretary in the ministry, Dr Andrew Tuimur, confirmed that the government would not import subsidised fertiliser this season.
He explained that the tendering for the importation of the farm input, which was to last three years — between 2016 and 2019 — was flawed, resulting in the cancellation of the contract.
“Farmers will have to purchase the inputs from certified dealers now that the planting season is on,” said Dr Tuimur.
He disclosed that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) had launched investigations into a cartel that took advantage of the window to import substandard fertiliser.
On Sunday, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich told farmers in the North Rift that the government was carrying out reforms in the distribution of the input before importation resumes.
“There must be reforms first so that we avoid substandard fertilisers. Once we are done, the fertilisers will be distributed through co-operatives,” said the CS, who had visited Keiyo South.
The subsidised fertiliser was imported through M/S Export Trading Company and distributed by the NCPB.
Grain growers yesterday took issue with the government on when the fertiliser would be made available, noting that the delay was likely to disrupt their planting programme.
“The government should exercise transparency in the importation and distribution of the subsidised fertiliser to avoid irregularities,” said Mr Robert Kosgey, an agricultural officer in Nandi County.
The government wants the fertiliser distributed to maize farmers through co-operative societies.
Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki, in his advisory to the ministry, warned against the procurement of the fertiliser, arguing that there were discrepancies in the procurement that might lead to the loss of taxpayers’ money.
“We advise that the ministry consider alternative options to procure the required fertiliser,” he said.
The government intended to continue acquiring subsidised fertiliser from M/S Export Trading Company Limited, whose two-year’ contract ended on January 11, but the AG pointed out a number of loopholes in the tender valuation report.
The country requires about 650,000 tonnes of fertiliser annually, but some farmers have to plant crops without applying the input due to the unaffordable prices.
“We might be forced to plant the crop without applying fertiliser due to the exorbitant costs,” said Mr David Mutai, a farmer from Ziwa in Uasin Gishu.
Maize farmers in the western Kenya region incurred losses running into millions of shillings after they were supplied with the sub-standard government-subsidised fertiliser through the NCPB outlets.