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Farmers urge ministry to probe fertiliser as maize wither

Monday May 23 2016

A farmer displays spoilt maize at Kabenes in Uasin Gishu County on May 10, 2016. A spot check by the Daily Nation in many parts in the region revealed that maize crops were beginning to turn yellow, coupled with uneven germination, a clear indication of insufficient nutrients. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A farmer displays spoilt maize at Kabenes in Uasin Gishu County on May 10, 2016. A spot check by the Daily Nation in many parts in the region revealed that maize crops were beginning to turn yellow, coupled with uneven germination, a clear indication of insufficient nutrients. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WYCLIFF KIPSANG
By WYCLIFF KIPSANG
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Farmers in the North Rift have asked the National Assembly to investigate the importation of poor quality fertiliser, which is threatening food security in the country’s grain basket.

In their petition addressed to the Agriculture Committee, the aggrieved farmers also want it to establish whether the relevant state agencies certified the subsidised fertiliser, which is blamed for uneven germination and colourisation of maize in the region.

“We want a thorough probe on cartels that have been adulterating the fertilisers, repackaging and reselling the products at exorbitant prices to farmers, defeating the purpose of the subsidy,” reads the petition signed by Uasin Gishu County Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director, Kipkorir Menjo, on behalf of the farmers.

The petitioners are also demanding an assessment of the impact of losses to the affected farmers and how they can be compensated.

They also want policies to be put in place to streamline how fertilisers and seeds are going to be protected from unscrupulous middlemen, whom they said were a threat to national food security.

“We also want to establish whether the fertiliser that was rejected by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture last year in the port of Mombasa was destroyed or the same was supplied to the farmers, which might be the reason behind the strange phenomenon,” Mr Menjo said.

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The farmers also want to ensure that the government will allocate at least Sh7 billion to agriculture in the next financial year.

A spot check by the Daily Nation in many parts in the region revealed that maize crops were beginning to turn yellow, coupled with uneven germination, a clear indication of insufficient nutrients.

Farmers blamed the phenomenon on loopholes in the distribution of subsidised fertiliser early this year. Indeed, some suspects were arrested in Kitale in February for being in possession of fertiliser-making equipment.

Mr Menjo demanded that Ministry of Agriculture officials carry out tests on the affected crops.

HARMFUL FERTILISER

The worst-hit areas are Moi’s Bridge, Ziwa, Moiben, Turbo and Soy, on the outskirts of Eldoret Town, which is in Uasin Gishu County.

Meanwhile, wheat farmers in the region, who are preparing their land ahead of the forthcoming planting season, are also afraid they might incur similar losses.

“We need to establish the scientific facts behind this strange phenomenon,” Mr James Rogony, whose 50-acre farm in Ziwa has been affected, said.

“It seems the fertiliser, which was supplied during the planting season, is not compatible with the soils of this region. We’ve been planting for many seasons but we were yet to witness this.”

Fears are now rife that maize output in the Rift Valley could fall by four million bags this season as the effects of suspect fertiliser takes a heavy toll on agriculture.

Last season, the region produced an average of 21 million bags of maize against a consumption of about eight million, a surplus of nearly seven million bags.

However, production may decline to 17 million bags this season.

Last Thursday, a security team from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and the Flying Squad police unit impounded Sh6 million government-subsidised fertiliser that was hidden in a private warehouse in Nakuru Town.

According to NCPB Chairman Geoffrey King’ang’i, the fertiliser was on transit from the port of Mombasa to the board’s stores in Kitale before a private transporter diverted and kept it in a hired Kenya Railways godown.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago has demanded that the ministry carries out intensive research on the chemistry of its preferred fertiliser and establish the cause of the stunted maize crops and poor germination in the region.

He lamented that the ministry distributed Nitrogen Phosphorus Potassium (NPK) fertiliser to local farmers who, after planting and using it, are witnessing stunted maize growth, with most seeds failing to germinate.

“We want an explanation from the Ministry of Agriculture of the national government,” Mr Mandago told the Daily Nation.

“We want to know why maize has shown poor germination and growth despite receiving both fertilisers and seeds from the government.

“I believe the NPK fertilisers that the ministry brought to our farmers is the cause.” 

The county chief also demanded that, in case investigations prove the fears, the ministry should compensate all the affected farmers. 

PROSECUTE CULPRITS

The farmers have, in the meantime, called on the government to supply CAN fertiliser to strengthen the affected crops.

This comes as the Uasin Gishu County Assembly called for investigations into the alleged sale of the suspect subsidised fertiliser.

In a motion tabled before the floor of the House, MCAs petitioned the regional government and the relevant state agencies to establish the cause of the phenomenon.

Tabling the Motion last week, Soy MCA Isaac Chirchir expressed fears of heavy losses and food shortage in the country.

“Fears among our farmers is that, soon after germination, immediately after an onset of the rains for the season, the colour of the maize plant has turned yellow. This is evident in the entire county,” he said.

Moi’s Bridge MCA Daniel Sanga seconded the Motion and petitioned the county government to urgently take up the matter, since agriculture is a devolved function.

“If there is anybody within the system of this government messing up and injecting some fake chemical fertilisers, then this person should be prosecuted so that it acts as a lesson to other unscrupulous dealers who are fleecing farmers of their hard-earned money,” Mr Sanga said.

Tembelio MCA Pius Kigen said farmers in his ward risked losing Sh50 million that they used to buy the fertilisers at the NCPB stores through cooperative societies.

The government has since moved to stem the rampant theft of subsidised fertiliser with the suspension of more than 20 NCPB officers on Thursday.

They included regional managers of Nairobi, North Rift and Central, and depot staff.

According to Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe, the subsidised fertiliser has found its way into the hands of unscrupulous traders, who have been found repackaging or adulterating it.

Dr Lesiyampe said the officers, who were suspended for 60 days, were colluding with unscrupulous dealers. He added that, so far, more than 10,000 bags of fertiliser had been intercepted and returned to the NCPB stores.

“Cases have been reported in Kitale, Meru, Nakuru and Thika, which are under police investigation,” Dr Lesiyampe said.

“It has, therefore, been decided that officers responsible for regions, depots and headquarters functions involved in the malpractice be suspended forthwith to pave the way for through investigation.”

PART OF THE SOLUTION

The PS said officers found innocent would be reinstated but the guilty ones would be prosecuted.

The distribution of the subsidised fertiliser early this year was marred by many complaints, prompting Deputy President William Ruto and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett to make an impromptu tour of the Eldoret NCPB depot.

Then, Mr Ruto sought to assure farmers that the government had ordered 130 tonnes of the farm input.

He said a ship carrying 1.1 million bags had already docked at the port of Mombasa and blamed lack of a substantive agriculture minister last year for the delay in procurement and distribution of the fertiliser ahead of the planting season.

“This year, the government has spent Sh3.2 billion on subsidised fertiliser alone; almost a similar amount was spent last year on the subsidy programme,” Mr Ruto said. “We want genuine farmers to benefit, not some businessmen.”

The delay in the distribution of the subsidised inputs saw three senior NCPB officials dismissed as the government moved to root out middlemen and streamline the distribution of the commodity.

“We have agreed that counties will look for registrar in all wards, so that at the end of the year, we will be having a data of all the farmers,” the DP added. “They (cartels) are among us; let us be part of the solution.”