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Govt urged to be fair to farmers

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 21 – The Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP) has called on the government to work out a price mechanism that would ensure farmers get a good return on their investments.

Although the Federation’s Chief Executive Officer Kanywithia Mutunga admitted on Wednesday that fixing the prices of food grains would not be a permanent solution, he argued that farmers needed to get value for their products.

“We do not have to fix our prices at a cost lower than that of production because that drains the farmer. But in this respect, (the prices) should be based on empirical data not just fixing the price at Sh2,000 when the analysis shows that a farmer is not breaking even,” he added.

At a press conference, the CEO said that while the NCPB helps in regulating and distributing food and therefore cannot be dispensed with; farmers should be motivated to produce more.

Lately, the government has come under fire from farmers for intervening in the on-going maize shortage and putting a price ceiling on the cereals, which was much lower than the production cost at farm level.

When the food situation began to worsen, the government asked farmers to sell their produce at Sh1,950 for a 90kg bag while cost analysis showed that the average production cost at the farm was Sh2,329. This, coupled with the fact that the government was importing maize at Sh3,450 per bag, led some farmers to hold on to their maize instead of releasing it to the National Cereals and Produce Board.

“It hurts when the interventions cause the prices to drop. We understand that consumers need to be cushioned from higher prices but if this move discourages production, then you are actually making consumers more vulnerable,” Mr Mutunga stressed.

Some farmers have argued that the government should let the demand and supply forces determine the prices at which farmers should sell their grains, instead of dictating the selling price to them.

The farmers, especially in the North Rift have appealed to the government to allow them to sell their produce directly to any willing buyer in order to distribute the grain to needy consumers in other parts of the country.

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“The government also needs to import maize immediately with clear projections on what the country really needs to cushion the demand gap over a long period,” Mr Mutunga demanded.

During the same function, the Federation Chairman Nduati Kariuki however said that the long term solution would be for the government to subsidise farm inputs to enable farmers produce more economically.

“Instead of the government subsidising food during a crisis, what they should be doing is financing farmers so that they can produce more cheaply. This then means that it will not be necessary to control prices and the market forces would bring down the prices of food stuffs. The consumers would be the beneficiaries,” Mr Kariuki argued.

The officials said that the bags of grain that were being held by farmers were almost insignificant but admitted that the food shortage was real. The government recently launched an international appeal of Sh37billion to feed 10 million people who are facing starvation.

This then called for the speedy distribution of food to all Kenyans in the affected areas, they observed.

The federation claimed that it had warned the government last year that there would a major food crisis in early 2009 and proposed several recommendations, which were neglected (by the government).

In its report submitted to the government in March last year, the alliance had observed that land under cultivation had reduced by 25 percent due to the post election violence. A large proportion of the farming activities, the report indicated, had been suspended and food reserves destroyed.

The cost of production had significantly gone up with the land preparation cost going up by between 67 percent and 120 percent due to the exorbitant increase in farm input costs, which meant that farmers planted less. Poor rains resulted in wide spread crop failures.

In view of the above factors, KENFAP had requested the government to reduce the cost of farm inputs, embark on irrigation programs to increase the food needs of the country, review and implement the Land Policy and support policies that introduce production and consumption of orphaned crops in marginalised areas in the country.

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As a short term measure, the government has pledged to avail subsidised fertilizer and reduce the prices of planting seed by 10 percent to enable farmers to be more productive.

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