Government confirms distribution of bad fertiliser to farmers

Fake fertiliser

Some of the 560 bags of substandard fertiliser that were seized at the National Cereals and Produce Board depot in Molo, Nakuru County on March 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

The government has confirmed the distribution of sub-standard fertiliser to farmers and suspended the distribution of the vital farm input by KEL chemicals pending legal action.

The move follows the release of test results by the Kenya Bureau of Standard (KEBS) on all fertiliser being distributed under the subsidy programme which showed that fertiliser distributed by KEL chemicals did not meet quality requirements.

The quality regulatory body has consequently initiated legal action against KEL Chemicals for distributing substandard products as per the Standards Act Cap 496.

“This measure underscores the Government commitment to upholding stringent product quality and safety standards, ensuring accountability and safeguarding the agricultural sector and the wider public,” said a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture.

It assured farmers that all fertiliser being distributed under the subsidy programme meet the required requirements except those manufactured and distributed by Ms KEL chemicals.

Among the brands distributed by the firm that did not meet all required test parameters include Kelphos Plus, Kelphos Gold and NPK 10:26:10. It affected consignments distributed between and March 5 to 10 2024.

“Following release of test results by KEBS, the Government has taken decisive action to safeguard the agricultural sector and farmers by announcing the immediate suspension of KEL Chemicals' operations and seizure of its fertiliser products,” added the statement.

It asked farmers who have acquired or possess fertiliser from KEL Chemicals to immediately discontinue its use and to visit their nearest NCPB facility for further guidance.

“The Government remains committed to enforcing strict compliance with safety and quality standards for all fertiliser being availed to farmers among other products.

"This is to ensure that the farmers are protected against unscrupulous industry players and to preserve safety and quality of the food supply chain,” said the statement.

As the controversy over the distribution of counterfeit fertiliser rages on, farmers are seeking explanations on who are the individuals behind its circulation and how it jammed the supply chain of the government subsidy program, posing potential threat to food security.

Failure by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to arrest and prosecute suppliers of fake fertiliser to farmers through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has also raised questions on the identity of the untouchable businessmen.

This is despite the admission by the Cabinet and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) that the government subsidy programme had been affected with supply of fake fertiliser  (NPK 10:26:10) which farmers across the country had bought over an unknown period of time.

“As a precautionary measure, the NCPB has been directed to suspend the further distribution of fertiliser until the investigation is concluded and a report is provided. The NDIC affirmed that after the completion of the fertiliser investigations, those found culpable will face the full force of the law,” said the National Development Implementation Committee (NDIC) chaired by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi last week.

Kebs, the standards agency, told a parliamentary committee that it had withdrawn 5,840 bags of substandard fertiliser.

The scandal is expected to have far reaching ramifications on the government’s efforts to enhance food production in the country and lower imports that Kenya has relied on over the years.

Through the lobby Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) and respective cooperative societies, farmers have taken issue with government pushback over non-existence of bogus fertiliser claiming some rogue government officials were behind the scam to enrich themselves at the expense of the farmers.

They have censured the government over failure to protect them from cartels who have subverted the supply chain termed investigations into the scam as a waste of time and resources.

“The government through relevant departments have records on firms approved to distribute the fertiliser.

"There are documentations on how the consignment entered the National Cereals and Produce Board stores and register of farmers who purchased the inputs under the subsidy program. It should take responsibility and go for them instead of taking farmers in circles,” said Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya farmers Association (KFA) director during a farmers meeting in Eldoret.

Agricultural debate remains a contentious issue, especially in maize growing zones in the North Rift region, the country’s breadbasket where increase in the cost of farm inputs-fertiliser or imports of the grains especially during harvest period which lowers prices trigger protests from farmers.

“We are seeking answers from relevant government departments on the circulation of fake fertiliser and who are possible faces behind the scam and what corrective measures have been put in place,” said Jackson Kosgei from Moiben, Uasin Gishu county while cautioning against politicization of the matter.

The government subsidized fertiliser is distributed through the NCPB, Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC) and approved agrovets.

Some firms dealing in commercial fertiliser have also leased NCPB stores to distribute the farm inputs.

“We engaged the company on a consignment partnership under its commercial trading wing. Beside the Board, GPC products were distributed through Agrovets and other outlets,” said Titus Maiyo NCPB Corporate Affairs Officer.

Several bags of suspected fake fertiliser have been impounded across the country as farmers’ push for the resignation of CS Linturi and compensation for the impending losses.

The board has recalled suspected fake fertiliser sold to farmers for this season’s planting exercise.

The country requires 650,000 tonnes of fertiliser annually for optimum production.

Dr Paul Kipronoh Rono, the Principal Secretary for Agriculture and Crops Development recently announced the suspension of the NPK fertiliser (NPK 10:26:10) manufactured by Ken Chemicals Limited  on claims it may be substandard.

The PS said the government will subject the suspected fake fertiliser in circulation in parts of the country to laboratory tests to ascertain the quality of the farm input and determine its fate in the market.

Some farmers from the North Rift region who purchased the fake fertiliser for dry planting period are now compensation from companies that received certification from Kebs to sale the inputs that have been declared.

“The government should protect farmers from cartels who have subverted the fertiliser distribution chain, selling them fake inputs. The scam subject farmers to heavy losses and shatter the dream of attaining food security,” said Joshua Kosgei from Chepkanga, Uasin Gishu County.

A similar situation prevails in Mugamba Ciura village in Kirinyaga county, who bought the said fertiliser from the Embu NCPB stores.

“The bags did not have the nylon lining that helps prevent water from siping in and we realized it is mixed with goat droppings complete with the animal’s hair” Mr David Karatai, an affected farmer said.

 Mrs. Lydia Wanjira is another farmer who expressed her frustrations, “Why did they sell this to us after queuing at the NCPB stores for hours,” she asked.

A report by the Ministry of Agriculture indicates that all fertiliser under the subsidy program are tested and certified by Kebs and suitable for crop production. It however acknowledges that some fertiliser is under investigations after claims emerged that they could be substandard.

“The product under investigation was withdrawn from circulation within the NCPB network as of 9th march 2024 as directed by Kebs,” said the report.

Lawmakers from the maize growing zone in Rift Valley have joined the debate on the counterfeit fertiliser and want proper investigations launched into the matter.

Additional reporting by Ruth Sarmwei and Ken Rop