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Sh2b shot in the arm for Kenyan farmers

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 4 – The Agriculture ministry is among the beneficiaries of the enhanced Sh25 billion supplementary budget that was passed by Parliament last week.

The government raised development funding for three key ministries.  Agriculture got Sh2.2b while Water and Irrigation got the highest allocation at Sh3.6 billion, while the Ministry of Finance got Sh2.3 billion.

High fuel prices increased the cost of fertilizers by over 200 percent between January and April 2008. As a result of high input costs and post election crisis, the area planted with maize during the long rains last year was 25 percent less than normal.

The combined impact of these crises has reduced Kenya’s national maize production for the 2008/09 season to an estimated 2.43 million metric tones; a 23 percent shortfall against an estimated national consumption of 3.15 million metric tonnes. 

Agricultural experts say the country will face a maize shortfall for about four months before its next big harvest that starts later in October.

It is hoped that the interventions by the Agriculture ministry will increase the likelihood that crop production in 2009 will meet national consumption and food security.

Such interventions, it is expected, will result in gross production of an additional 45,000 metric tonnes of maize. Farmers say they have so far exhausted all their 2008 harvests, leaving imports as the last resort to fill in the national shortfall.

According to Agriculture Minister William Ruto, the current food deficit will be addressed through a mixture of cereals as opposed to over reliance on maize.

“We will buy an additional 500,000 bags of wheat with money provided in the supplementary budget,” he told parliament last Tuesday.

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At the current prices of Sh2,800 per bag, the State will be spending a whopping Sh1.4 billion on wheat purchases alone.

The balance of Sh800,000 could therefore be channeled into the purchase of subsidised fertilizer and improved seeds variety.

Farmers, through their umbrella Cereals Growers Association (CGA) welcomed the government’s inputs subsidy scheme.
“We are happy that the prices have come down to Sh2,500 per 50kg bag of DAP. We like the effort because more farmers will benefit ahead of the planting season,” said CGA Chief Executive David Nyameino.

He, however, said the fertilizer subsidy programme is not well structured and is riddled with logistical difficulties.

James Nyoro, an Agricultural policy expert and director of the Rockefeller Foundation wants the State to prioritise imports of more food because raging famine has expanded the initial deficits.

He says lack of rainfall or below-normal conditions in most arable parts of the country does not guarantee better harvests in the next planting season even if inputs were to be available.

“It is too late to be buying inputs at this point. The thrust of the increased allocation should be to import more food. The country needs to import up to six million bags of maize by June,” he says.

“If the inputs are ordered now, the earliest they can arrive is in August,” says Mr Nyoro, the immediate former director of the Tegemeo Agricultural research Institute. “The sector has been struggling with lack of alternatives to move forward. Irrigated agriculture holds the lifeline for the country,” he adds.

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