Costly farm inputs could lead to food shortage, say experts

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Experts are warning of looming food shortages in Kenya even as lack of subsidised government fertiliser and increased fuel prices hit this planting season.

The farmers are faced with challenges of planting this season’s maize crop at a time when the Early Warning System (EWS) has forecast food scarcity in the country from last month until June this year.

Other African countries likely to experience food insecurity, according to the report by EWS, include Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

Grain farmers in the North Rift region say the increased cost of farm inputs — fertiliser, maize seed, and diesel prices — will force them to reduce acreage under the crop, therefore posing a threat to the country’s food security.

The fears are confirmed by agricultural experts in the region, who say high prices for fertiliser and maize seed have affected many farmers.

The experts in the report Food and Crop Situation in Rift Valley say Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP), the widely used fertiliser for planting, has been out of stock. The input is retailing at between Sh3,500 and Sh4,200, although the government subsidised fertiliser sold at Sh2,480, but is not available in many NCBP depots.

Maize growers in the North Rift say increase of fuel prices by an average of Sh4 per litre was making it difficult for them to till their land in readiness for planting.

Diesel, the commonly used fuel by farmers for land preparation, is selling at Sh109 a litre.

“Machinery for land preparation has been available as the demand has been low owing to increased fuel prices that might force most farmers to reduce acreage under crop production,” said Mr Mathew Lagat, an agricultural expert from Nandi County.

The fear of planting maize due to the lethal necrosis disease is another factor that is discouraging some farmers.

“Maize planting for the 2013 long rain season has been slow. Few farmers have planted in the province with very low acreage achieved,” states annual crop production report.

According to it, 100,000 hectares out of the possible 665,000 hectares in the province have been planted with the crop and 20,000 out of 256,000 hectares with beans.

Maize production in Rift Valley dropped by four million bags — from to 17 million bags last season 21 million bags, partly due to the outbreak of the disease.

But farmers in areas affected by the outbreak have been allocated seeds for short-term crops as alternatives to maize this season.

The viral disease attacked maize planted in parts of the region after farmers ignored advice by agricultural experts not to cultivate the crop.

“Some farmers went ahead and planted maize on the same land this season, a move that might subject them to losses due to attack of the crop by the disease,” said a senior agricultural officer, adding that rotational crop cultivation remains the only option of breaking the cycle of the virus.

Uncertainty over the next government is another factor that has contributed to delayed land preparation this season.

“Some farmers were pre-occupied with the General Election campaigns while a wait-and-see attitude by others delayed land preparation,” said the report.