Farmers cry foul at move to double fertiliser price

Workers arrange bags of subsidised fertiliser at the National Cereals and Produce Board depot in Elburgon, Nakuru County

Workers arrange bags of subsidised fertiliser at the National Cereals and Produce Board depot in Elburgon, Nakuru County, on February 21, 2023. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

Cereal farmers in the North Rift have expressed doubts over the effectiveness of the fertiliser programme after the price of subsidised top-dressing fertiliser doubled.

The government has increased the cost of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) from Sh1,800 to Sh3,500. Farmers say this will expose them to exploitation by retailers, who could also increase the cost, thus rendering farming a non-profitable investment.

Those who spoke to the Saturday Nation said they did not expect the Kenya Kwanza administration to increase the price beyond Sh2,000. “The entire fertiliser programme has turned out to be costly after the government doubled the cost of CAN to Sh3,500, locking out most farmers from accessing the vital farm input,” said the farmers, led by Kipkorir Menjo, during a meeting in Eldoret.

The farmers also dismissed as illogical the decision by the government to sell both planting and top-dressing fertilisers at Sh3,500. “This pushes up the production cost and renders the entire subsidy programme immaterial,” said Joel Kosgei, from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) yesterday confirmed the availability of top-dressing fertiliser at Sh3,500 in its stores countrywide. “We encourage farmers with certified documents to purchase the input,” said Mr Titus Maiyo, NCPB communications manager.

Farmers have also expressed doubt about the quality of the subsidised planting fertiliser, arguing it is of low quality and they have to blend with other varieties like Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) before using it. “The NPK 23:23 fertiliser from the government is lacking in some nutrients and we have to blend it to attain a suitable component for planting,” said Mary Too from Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County.

They dismissed the soil analysis report discouraging them from applying DAP and criticised the government for not supplying their favourite fertiliser under the scheme. “For a long period, DAP has proved suitable for our crops. We have no reason to change to another fertiliser variety,” said Jackson Kambui from Moiben.

According to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, farmers are required to carry out soil testing to determine the type of fertiliser to use.

“Other fertilisers like NPK 23:23 are suitable for planting crops in the region unlike the DAP variety,” said Mr Linturi when he toured the region last week to assess the distribution of the subsidised fertiliser.

The subsidised planting fertiliser goes for Sh3,500, while DAP retails at Sh6,200. Kenya requires about 650,000 tonnes of fertiliser annually, but some farmers have to plant without it because of its unaffordability.

According to Dr Timothy Njagi of Tegemeo Institute, a food think tank, the NPK 23:23 has 46 per cent of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium compared to other brands.

“Because of the lower nutrients, farmers have to apply an extra bag compared to DAP with 46 per cent of NPK or crop-specific fertilisers to achieve higher fertilisation,” said Dr Njagi.

“Some fertilisers like DAP are not really that bad. What farmers need to be told is how to apply. For instance, they need to apply alongside the lime, a by-product of cement.”

Losses due to soil fertility

A study by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation indicates that farmers in Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia lose an average of 10 bags of maize per harvest to declined soil fertility caused by the continuous application of common types of fertiliser.

The declined crop production is confirmed by an earlier report on the fertiliser extension project that indicates that maize production in the region has dropped from 30 to 20 bags as soil continues to lose its fertility. “Farmers are practical researchers who have to be given the opportunity to access information on soil and its acidity level and recommendation on the type of fertiliser to apply to their crops,” said Dr Willy Lagat, a soil analyst in Uasin Gishu.

“Farmers in Trans Nzoia and its environs do not need any fertiliser during the planting period. All they require is enough compost or animal manure and application of CAN for top-dressing to harvest 30 bags of maize per acre.”

According to agricultural experts, crop production in Africa has declined in the past 10 years as a result of land degradation caused by increased soil acidity.

The Kenya Plant Health and Inspectorate Service and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute are among institutions that analyse soil. “It is paramount for farmers to know the acidity level of their soil and apply organic fertiliser to boost their crop production,” said Wilson Kosgei, an agricultural expert in Eldoret.