25 November 2018

Kenya: Concern As Problems Facing Farmers Mount

Despite being a major economic pillar for the country's economy, agriculture continues to face many challenges.

At 26 per cent, agriculture contributes more than a quarter of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, farmers have been left to their own devices, with the budgetary allocation in the sector remaining meagre.

Agriculture has been receiving less than two per cent of the total budget, way below the 10 per cent that was agreed by African presidents over a decade ago during the Maputo declaration.

Nearly all the major cash crops are facing challenges, with the worst hit being maize and sugar cane that have over the past couple of years seen farmers disillusioned.

Delayed payments have added to the pain that farmers are already facing, a move that has hindered growers from getting back to the business for lack of capital.

Farmers in Kenya are still grappling with high cost of production that has seen them lose out in competing with cheap regional grain that enters the country through cross-border trade.

Whereas a 90kg bag of maize in Uganda costs about Sh1,200 to produce, a farmer in Kenya incurs about Sh2,000 on average for the same, according to studies by Tegemeo Institute.

Eastern Africa Grain Council chief executive Gerald Masila says the issue of cost of production must be addressed before farmers call for higher prices for maize supplied to the government. "The focus should not be on price but rather on high cost of production," said Mr Masila.

Maize, the country's staple food, has since last year faced serious challenges, including drought, insect infestation and lack of market access.

A good number of farmers were unable to sell their maize to National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) last year after the silos were filled up with cheap maize from traders, locking out genuine growers from enjoying good government prices.

The government has projected a surplus (over 40 million bags) in the ongoing harvest and already the prices of maize have plummeted on account of a flooded market.

A 90kg bag of maize is now selling at Sh1,800 in the market from a high of Sh3,000 on average last year.

Sugar cane farmers have also not been spared similar miseries.

Delayed payment by factories and low prices for their produce has seen the acreage under the crop decline in recent years, making Kenya to enhance sugar imports to meet the subsequent deficit.

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