Those Kenyan farmers who normally use fertilizer to boost yields could be forced to go without this season (March-May) unless the government moves quickly to boost supplies.
A senior government official told IRIN a complaint lodged by a major fertilizer supplier, and Finance Ministry funding delays, were to blame for the shortfall.
“One of the firms that had tendered last November to supply subsidized fertilizers lodged a complaint over the whole tendering process and this has delayed the distribution of what was already available. The Ministry of Finance did not release the required funds for purchase of more fertilizers and this too complicated the problems,” said Gideon Misoi, director of the National Cereals and Produce Board, the government agency charged with distribution of fertilizer.
Farmers’ representatives say the shortage of fertilizers in a planting season, should it persist, coupled with depressed long rains, could lead to low crop yields and in turn, exacerbate food insecurity.
“The rains will not be enough and we need to supplement this with fertilizers to get good yields. If the government cannot give us fertilizers in good time, then we will get very low yields and again you will start hearing the government begging for food from outside to feed people,” said Arbanus Jura, a farmer in western Kenya and a member of the Cereal Growers’ Association.
Some 3.7 million Kenyans are currently food insecure, according to UN agencies, and in 2011, the country experienced the highest malnutrition rates in nearly a decade. Another round of poor crop yields could push many more into food insecurity and poverty, experts say.
“When crops fail, it is not just farmers who make losses, but food prices go up beyond many people’s reach and you have people being pushed deeper into poverty. Poor crop yields severely disrupt people’s livelihoods,” Enoch Mwani, who teaches agriculture at the University of Nairobi, told IRIN.
Misoi said the government has already started distributing 60,000 tons of fertilizer to farmers across the country.
While a 50kg bag of fertilizer costs 2,500 Kenya shillings (US$30) at the National Cereals and Produce Board, farmers say a similar quantity sells for 4,500 at private retail shops.
“Some private shops [retailers] have fertilizers but they sell it expensively and many farmers cannot afford it. It is bad because these people buy from the government and resell to farmers at exorbitant prices,” Jura, said.
Through a government subsidy programme supported by donors, some 105,000 tons of fertilizers have been given out to farmers this year, while an estimated 400,000 small farmers have benefited from free seeds and fertilizers.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya imports about 500,000 tons of fertilizer annually. It produces 28 million bags of maize (the main staple) against an annual consumption of 37 million bags.