Which way for us, poor maize farmers?

Workers spread maize to dry

Workers spread maize to dry by the roadside in Elburgon town, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It’s that time of the year when the sky loses its blue colour and darkens. From far, one can see the Cherangany Hills heavily covered by a dark cloud. Tractors are heard roaring everywhere, tilling and cultivating the land.

A resident of this region does not need to be reminded that the planting season is beckoning. But a visitor can easily mistake the flurry of activity with a noise pollution competition! Everybody is in a contest against time.

Soon, the rains will fall and farmers will be busy sowing before the rainfall subsides. This is always the norm in Kenya’s ‘grain basket’, Trans Nzoia County.

But farmers in Trans Nzoia and the neighbouring counties are in despair. The prices of farm inputs are too high. At whose mercy have they been left?

Leasing land costs Sh10,000 per acre, preparing it for planting Sh5,000. For a better yield, you need at least two bags of fertiliser, at Sh12,000. A 10 kilogramme bag of certified seed goes for Sh2,000-2,500. The entire project will set you back at least Sh40,000 per acre.

If you are lucky enough, you will recoup the cost of production. Otherwise, you suffer a loss.

Recently, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) announced the price of Sh3,000 per 90 kg bag of maize. But that is way too little compared to the Sh6,000 for a bag of fertiliser.

However, everybody hopes payment will be made immediately—as the chairman, Mr Mutea Iringo, assured by farmers on January 13, at the launch of the Warehouse Receipt System (WRS) held at NCPB Kitale depot.

If the country is sure to achieve food security, and in line with the President’s ‘Big Four Agenda’, the farmer needs to be cushioned from the high cost of farm inputs. The government ought to subsidise the inputs lest we starve. We are faced with the danger of producing little or no food at all.

Ironically, the politicians we depend on to pass laws to cushion the farmer are very busy politicking. The most they do is promise heaven on earth when elected. Others blame the government they serve in for the surge in prices of essential commodities.

During his visit in Trans Nzoia recently, the Cabinet Secretary Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, Mr Peter Munya, blamed the unaffordable fertiliser to high global prices. He said the global market was shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. He gave the example of China, the biggest fertiliser exporter, having stopped fertiliser export.

He, however, promised that the government was working on bringing down the prices soon.

The long-suffering maize farmers are often told to try other forms of agriculture, such as dairy farming. But agriculture is not easy or profitable anywhere. Whether crop or dairy farming, we all need help.

To the politicians busy vote-hunting out there, remember, farmers are also voters.

Kiragu Kariuki, Trans Nzoia

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