Fake fertiliser: Kenya National Farmers Federation calls for compensation

 Mwenda M’Mailutha

Kenya National Farmers Federation CEO Mwenda M’Mailutha during the interview on April 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The fake fertiliser scandal is seen in some quarters as the greatest threat to Kenya’s food agenda. Farmers now want the government to ensure those involved in producing and selling the fakes are brought to book. Seeds of Gold writer Francis Mureithi talked to Dr Mwenda M’Mailutha, the CEO of Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff)

You champion the interests of 837,000 farmers. How is Kenaff handling this scandal?

We have written to the Ministry of Agriculture demanding proper investigations on what exactly happened. President William Ruto has addressed the issue but we realise some things are not clear. The government must pursue the culprits and have them prosecuted. We want farmers to be compensated for the losses incurred.

There are reports of farmers being duped into buying fake seeds. What is Kenaff doing about this?

We were referred to Kenya Seeds Company, which said it is investigating the issue. A scandal of this magnitude could be an inside job. We hope the relevant arms of the government will carry out investigations. The matter has been taken up by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

What has been the response after Kenaff wrote three memorandums to the government?

We have not received a response on whether the farmers who bought fake fertiliser will be compensated. Kenaff and other agriculture players are still waiting for this feedback.

How is your organisation helping farmers understand climate change adaptation and mitigation?

Kenaff has a 2022-26 strategic plan called “Watering the Tree for Growth”. It puts farmers at the heart of climate action and resilience to cushion them against emerging emergencies and shock. We are training farmers to contribute to climate action through water harvesting, kitchen gardens, farm forestry, afforestation, soil health and biodiversity conservation. We are mobilising farmers to plant and take care of 10 billion trees.

What policies would make farming more lucrative?

One policy that needs urgent attention is access to finance and affordable credit. This incorporates insurance, social protection for farmers and crop and livestock insurance.

Most Kenyan farmers have no life cover. Kenaff is working with insurance firms to sensitise farmers on taking medical covers. They need to remain healthy as they work on their lands.

The other area is technical advisory services. The government needs to focus on extension services if we are to transform our agriculture.

Devolved governments no longer hire extension service officers. What is Kenaff’s opinion on this?

Farmers do not have technical skills, the latest innovations in the market or access to research from public universities and other institutions that would help boost production. This is because there are no extension officers to break down the study findings and other information to farmers. Kenaff has raised concerns about this.

If that is the case, what is your organisation doing to address the problem?

We offer training to farmers through the Kenaff Knowledge Series programme which has 22 topics, including soil health, animal nutrition and agronomy. We do this through text messages, Kenaff Apps, videos, farmers field days and workshops.

The biggest challenge is our limited workforce and financial resources. If we had these, we would roll out a robust technical service to farmers all over the country.

How would you describe the success?

We have mobilised farmers’ groups and cooperative societies in 17 counties. These groups negotiate prices of their produce. Some farmers in Makueni County have found a way of exporting mangoes to Germany. We have also connected avocado farmers in Meru with markets in South Korea and Germany.

Through Kenaff, farmers have accessed credit from commercial banks.

Do farmers benefit from Wakulima markets in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and other big towns?

The markets, popularly known as marikiti, are very complex. Many farmers do not gain anything from these markets.

This calls for the government to streamline operations in the markets so that farmers are allowed to sell directly to hotels and other high consumers like state institutions that get produce from marikitis.

What is Kenaff doing to encourage young people to venture into agriculture?

We have a department called Kenaff Young, which looks out for young people involved in farming. We look for models in agriculture and showcase their innovations and success stories.

Through this, we have developed leadership and exchange programmes where young farmers meet and share their experiences and knowledge.

We have established a partnership with the World Farmers Organisation in Italy, to benefit from the youth programme.

We are also working with farmers’ associations in Germany and Italy where we take young people there for three months. Kenaff is negotiating for a similar programme with the National Farmers Union in the United States.

We’re have partnered with the German development agency (GIZ), Egerton University, the University of Nairobi and other institutions in Kenya on programmes encouraging young people to try a hand in agriculture.

We are also working with 4K Clubs and the newly launched Kenya Agricultural Students Association to ignite interest in farming in children.

What is your take on disabled farmers struggling to work with unfriendly machines and equipment?

We need a concrete policy that will provide a framework which guides the formulation of laws supporting and addressing the plight of such farmers. Kenaff has boards at the county level which have representatives from disabled persons.

Do you support the proposed taxes on produce?

Kenaff is against these taxes. We need to create an enabling environment for farmers to enhance productivity and efficiency. Farmers cannot access credit to support production. There’s no good infrastructure and extension services.

Many farmers have no access to post-harvest technology, irrigation, driers and cold storage facilities. The majority are not even aware of the Warehouse Receipt Systems. Many have not formed value chain-based cooperatives.

If farmers are provided with these and are not incurring high production costs, they will have no problem paying taxes.

What would be the Kenaff scorecard for the government on agriculture be after more than a year in office?

I will give the government a C+. There is a lot to be done by the government to make farming the real backbone of Kenya’s economy. The Warehouse Receipt System and Commodity Exchange are brilliant and transformative ideas. Kenaff welcomes reforms at the Agricultural Finance Corporation to help fund priority value chains.