As the Kenya government and private millers under the aegis of the Cereal Millers Association engaged in a back and forth over whether the country has enough food stocks, it was emerging that the next crop harvest in the rift valley breadbasket could be less than optimum as a result of ‘’fake fertilizer’ that has led to significant crop failure. Farmers have claimed losses due to what they allege could be fake fertilizer sold to them under the government subsidy program. While government has come out to refute those allegations, those fears cannot be wished away.
Increasingly, government is having to do more to feed a growing population now arguably approaching 45 million souls and growing at about 2.7% per annum. With an annual average per capita requirement of about 90kg of maize, Kenya needs to produce at least forty five million bags (4.5m MT) of maize to feed her people. However in the best of seasons, and these have been few and far in between, the country produces between 25-30 million bags (about 3m tones). Other food staples like rice and potatoes supplement food demand, so a deficit of about 1m bags is filled mainly from the EAC region (Uganda & Tanzania) among other sources.
The desire to meet national food security perhaps explains the dalliance by government in agricultural projects like the said input subsidy program and the controversial Galana-Kulalu irrigation project which from an M&E perspective may not have been impactful. Simply put, the output (outcome and impact) does not justify the heavy investment done (even without the politics of corruption). Generally, best practice proves that governments should focus more on providing the requisite policy environment rather than meddling in project implementation, better left in the hands of private sector.
Obviously, access to certified inputs-fertilizer and seed-in a timely and sufficient manner is key to proper agricultural production. While justification could be made for government subsidy programme, there have been too many loopholes that make it easy for private traders to infiltrate the process, buying the subsidized input and floating the same on the market at higher prices for profit, defeating the intended purpose. It could be those same loopholes that racketeers use to sell uncertified fertilizer to farmers.
But lack of access to fertilizer and other inputs is not a challenge unique to Kenya. Across sub-Saharan Africa, fertilizer use stands at a measly 11kg per hectare against a world average of 100kg/ha. The 2006 ‘’Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution” recommends increasing fertilizer use to at least 50kg/ha.
Fertilizer is critical to the achievement of the CAADP target of 6% growth in agriculture to which Kenya is a signatory. Closer home, a good example of what commitments to CAADP could achieve is Rwanda-well on its way to food security courtesy of its diligent implementation of the 2003 Maputo provisions.
The blueprint stipulated minimum investment benchmarks including a 10% budgetary allocation by national governments. Kenya’s Agriculture minister while launching preparations for the 2016 AGRF admitted Kenya is yet to achieve her targets. Fortunately, he was in the company of AGRA’s President, Madam Agnes Kalibata who as former Rwanda minister for Agriculture is credited with Rwanda’s good standing in food security. He may want to borrow her ‘national food security guide.’
Some of the barriers that hinder access to fertilizer include lack of domestic manufacturing and the importation of inappropriate fertilizers and in small batches which result in high buying prices on the world market. This coupled with inadequate local distribution channels mean high transaction costs and with poor credit credentials, most farmers hardly get to procure what would be sufficient for production.
The setting up of local manufacturing plant through public private partnership between GoK and Toyotsu will hopefully help to make this important commodity not only readily available but affordable too. This calls for strengthening of local agro-dealer networks that will take fertilizer to the farm-gate with accompanying education on proper use.
Most importantly, government needs to make up its mind about agricultural markets. Level playing ground to access input and output markets by value chain players is the best incentive for increasing production and food security. Government cannot blow hot and cold on where it stands with regard to a liberalized market if it hopes to attract private sector money in agriculture. It can’t have its cake and eat it.
Consultant- COMESA and