The Star (Nairobi)

25 February 2014

Kenya: Cheap Fertiliser Will Boost Food Output

The move by the Government to reduce fertiliser prices will relieve farmers the high cost of farm inputs and empower them to increase production and address the current food insecurity witnessed in some parts of the country.

This comes as farmers in the bread basket areas are preparing to plant their crops during this season.

Reduction of fertilizer prices will help farmers increase crops under agricultural land.

High cost of farm inputs especially fertilizers has been impediment to grain farmers alongside high soil acidity that has led to decline in yields.

As hundreds of thousands of people are faced with starvation caused by various factors ranging from natural calamities to economic difficulties, the move taken by the Government to reduce the cost of fertilizers is timely and should be implemented.

The constitution mandates that the citizens have a right to food security and this can only be achieved if proper policies are put in place to increase crop production.

The grain sector has for long been faced with challenges of adopting modern production techniques to increase crop yield and time has come for the sector to be revitalized.

Farming should be taken as a business venture just like any other sector for crop producers to be motivated to earn better returns.

But less than ten years ago, the then minister for Agriculture and now Deputy President William Ruto introduced radical changes to the sector that saw farmers increase acreage under crop production and the country had surplus maize among other agricultural commodities.

But what then went wrong from the Ruto's magic agricultural policies?

The foremost issues that Mr. Ruto introduced and which were instrumental in increased crop production were among them the timely importation of subsidized fertilizers and at affordable prices.

The big challenge that currently face farmers is skyrocketing cost of farm inputs especially fertilizers.

What needs to be borrowed from Mr. Ruto's policies is the supply of fertilizers to farmers at the right time and affordable prices is key to the attainment of food security in the country.

A country like Malawi which was once an importer of maize has revitalized its agricultural sector and has since attained enough surpluses for local consumption and others to export. Kenya needs to borrow a leaf from Malawi.

As Mr. Ruto did, agriculture is the backbone of the country's economy and there is no way we can achieve development and food security if more efforts were not put in the sector to increase crop production and avert famine as currently being witnessed in some parts of the country.

Apart from the subsidized fertilizers, availability of farm implements-machineries is some of the issues that Mr. Ruto also introduced during his helm in the agricultural sector.

Lowering taxes on farm machineries and having county governments in grain growing areas prioritize the availability of the resources (farm inputs and machineries) will motivate farmers to increase crop production.

As Mr. Ruto did during his tenure in agriculture, availability of the farm machineries at affordable rates are some of the motivations that grain farmers need to increase crop production and for the country to attain food security.

Most farmers cannot access loans from commercial financial institutions and allocation of more monies to ADC the way Mr. Ruto had advocated is the only way that cereal farmers can have trust in agriculture as a business venture.

This in itself will lead to partnership between agricultural research institutes like the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) since farmers are sure of attaining their returns from the agricultural sector.

What is evident for the time long is that supply of relief food is not a solution to food scarcity in our country but provision of modern agricultural crop production techniques is the only solution to attaining food stability.

Up to date most farmers still depend on rain-fed agriculture which is unpredictable due to erratic weather pattern.

Farm inputs are exorbitant while markets have dwindled, due to poor planning, erratic rainfall pattern that have been witnessed in many parts of the country have gone to waste and due to lack of conservation infrastructures.

The government did away with Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) that cushion

farmers from losses caused by natural cartographies, subjecting them to exploitation by private insurers. The policy needs to be reintroduced to act as motivation to our agricultural farmers.

The few drought resistant food crops like sorghum, cassavas, sweet potatoes and millet among others with equally high nutritional value is not sufficient to feed our nation to attain nutritional health.

The fact is that many Kenyans depend on agriculture alongside livestock production for the socio-economic livelihood and needs to be supported in order to attain growth and development.

But the latest move by the Government to reduce the cost of fertilizers is in the right direction in increasing crop production and for food security to be attained and have no more Kenyans dying out of starvation.

Kaino works with the Deputy President's Press Service. The views expressed here are his own.

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