Agony of farmers missing subsidised fertiliser

Maize farm

Ms Rhoda Bosibori works at a maize farm in Elburgon, Nakuru County on May 19, 2022.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

The planting season should bring joy to farmers as they sow seeds in the soil and wait for them to sprout.

Over the years, when the rains were regular and fertiliser and seeds, among other inputs, were readily available and affordable, farmers cherished the season. Not anymore as they struggle to access the inputs amid the ravaging effects of climate change like erratic rains.

Agriculture CS Peter Munya appeared to have brought some joy to farmers a month ago when he announced that the government would provide subsidised fertiliser to cushion farmers from high costs.

But Seeds of Gold has established that the subsidised fertiliser, both for planting and top-dressing, has eluded farmers not only because of excessive red tape and shortage, but also unscrupulous businessmen have found a way to beat the system and milk the producers dry.

planting

A farmer puts fertilizer and maize seeds in a tractor planter in Mariashoni, Nakuru County, in this photo taken on April 16, 2022. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

In short, thousands of small-scale farmers have not benefited from the subsidised fertiliser that Munya say they can buy up to 40 50kg bags each from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores, having increased the number from 20.

Farmers say that the process of acquiring the commodity is extremely tedious. To begin with, they must register with their local chiefs by giving details of their farm’s acreage, ownership, location and type of crops they want to plant to get a clearance note from the Ministry of Agriculture.

But that is not all, they must be members of a registered cooperative society or group comprising at least 10 people. In a country where few farmers are members of a cooperative society, most of them are being left out.

And the fact that it takes up to a week to register such an outfit at the Ministry of Agriculture means farmers who were timing the rains to plant had no option but to give up.

The worst of it all is that unscrupulous dealers, the so-called cartels, have taken advantage of the situation to buy the fertiliser in bulk as they have the money and the means of transport.

They then repackage and sell at Sh6,000 instead of the subsidised price of Sh2,800 per 50kg bag.

"I was shocked when an agrovet owner insisted that I can only buy the fertiliser at Sh6,000. I sent him Sh8,400 for three bags via Mpesa but he returned the money," said Elizabeth Mukami, a farmer at Wanyororo in Bahati, Nakuru County.

She has about three acres that she had prepared ahead of the onset of the rains and needed at least three 50kg bags of DAP fertiliser.

According to her, agents of fertiliser traders visited her area and recorded names of those farmers who were late in planting promising to bring them the government fertiliser from NCPB, Nakuru depot. But she has realised this was a ploy to know the demand in the area and exploit them.

In Subukia, a farmer said he teamed up with another to buy a 50kg of government planting fertiliser at Sh6,000.

"I could not afford the Sh6,000 yet I needed to make good use of the rains.  I met an equally frustrated farmer like me at an agrovet shop and we jointly bought a 50kg bag of DAP and shared equally," said John Kipchumba, who grows maize on an acre.

Thomas Kirui, a farmer in Salgaa, said trying to get the government fertiliser is too expensive.

"One does not only incur high transport charges because the NCPB depots are far but also has to buy the input at an increased price of Sh6,000 for a 50kg bag," he said.

In the North Rift, Kenya's breadbasket, a severe shortage of the input has hurt planting as well as ongoing top dressing.

Members of one cooperative society told Seeds of Gold that despite booking for several bags of top dressing fertiliser a week ago, they have not been able to access the commodity. "We needed 100 bags, visited NCPB stores in Uasin Gishu last week and wanted to pay for the commodity but we only accessed 20 bags," said Peter Kibet, an official of the Moiben-based Bandaptai Farmers’ Cooperative Society, which has 50 members. In the region, a 50 kilo bag of urea is going for between Sh7,000 and Sh7,500. Besides urea, farmers also need CAN for top-dressing, with a 50kg bag going for between Sh5,000 and Sh6,000.

A fertiliser agent in Nakuru said that he was forced to maintain the Sh6,000 price on government fertiliser due to inflation.

“We’re slowly recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and most of us have dead stock of many farming inputs because farmers are not buying, that is why we are insisting on a higher price to recover,” said the agent.

While terming the turn of events unfortunate, NCPB communications manager Titus Maiyo said the agency has no control over the exploitation of farmers.

“This is unfortunate but NCPB has no control of prices once it distributes the fertiliser to its agents,” he said. He refuted claims that NCPB is demanding farmers to form groups of 10 before they are issued with planting and top-dressing fertilisers.

“As long as a farmer is registered and we confirm the details, NCPB has no objection to selling even a single bag. NCPB does not attach unnecessary conditions to impede the farmers from buying the subsidised fertiliser,” added Maiyo.

Seeds of Gold has established that it is the fertiliser agents who are asking farmers to form groups and once they know the demand, they buy the input in bulk from NCPB, repackage and sell at high prices.

Due to the challenges, the annual maize production this season is expected to stand at 4 million 90kg bags in Uasin Gishu County.

Last year, the county produced 4.9 million bags, according to the Agriculture executive Samuel Yego.

He said that the devolved unit is projecting a drop in production due to the rising cost of farm inputs such as fertiliser and fuel.

In Trans Nzoia, Agriculture executive Mary Nzomo said that they are projecting a decline in yields of up to 30 per cent as farmers failed to access crop and soil specific fertilisers in the market due to high costs and shortages.

“In fact, some farmers planted without fertiliser while others used manure which is a slow-release fertiliser. We encourage farmers to use foliar feed to help boost their crops,” stated Dr Nzomo.

She observed that as farmers prepare for top-dressing period, there is anticipated shortage of the commodity since ammonia; a key component in the fertiliser is in short supply because countries like Turkey and Ukraine, where the raw material is sourced are not exporting the ingredient.

“Top-dressing is critical for maize crop, under-usage of fertiliser leads to low productivity,” noted the official.

Kipkorir Menjo, a Kenya Farmers Association official, asked the government to mop up stocks of the top-dressing fertiliser in all stations and distribute to areas where the commodity is needed most.

Farmers asked NCPB to blacklist such rogue agents exploiting them.

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