The cost of foodstuffs in Kenya continues to rise at an alarming rate. More than 60 percent of Kenyan households cannot afford three meals a day and about 80 percent are leaving below a dollar daily.
According to the government, at least 20 counties in Kenya are facing acute food shortages and hunger. The President has already declared it a national disaster with aid coming in from other countries.
Ironically, Kenya is an “agricultural” country. This means that the Kenyan economy depends largely on agriculture to survive but the population has always been hungry.
The government insists that it is working in laying down policies that will bring down the cost of food. Ironically, they plan and talk about this from five-star hotels in Nairobi and Mombasa.
If the government of Kenya is not going to take the matter of food security seriously, then the whole government will plunge into hunger. And with time, the many hungry Kenyans will have nothing to eat but Kenyans.
Surviving on imports
Ugali is Kenya’s staple food. This means that maize flour is one of the most important things in Kenyan households. An average Kenyan eats ugali at least two times a day.
Maize farming has for years been at the heart of most Kenyans. Counties of Bungoma, Uasin Gishu, and Trans-Nzoia have often been referred to as the “food basket of Kenya.”
As the years flow by, farmers in these areas have started abandoning maize farming and taking up other cash crops. The main reason for this move has been the frustration of the government when it comes to the prices of maize.
To meet the demand for maize in the country, businessmen and women have been importing maize from other countries. The majority of imports of maize come from Brazil, Tanzania, and Uganda.
There has been a debate that there are deliberate plans to frustrate Kenyan maize farmers so that the cartels in the industry can get a reason to import maize at low prices and sell it at crazy prices to Kenyans.
Farming in Kenya compared to Uganda
Farming in Kenya is three times more expensive compared to Uganda. This is the reason why an egg from Uganda sells at five shillings at the border and 10 shillings when it lands in Kenya while an egg laid in Kenya sells at least 13 shillings.
When it comes to maize farming, renting one acre of land in Kenya is between 10,000 and 12 thousand shillings from 3,500 shillings. A 50-kilogram bag of fertilizer is now going for between 7000 and 8000 shillings from 2500 some years back.
Let us do the math; tilling an acre of land is around 7000 shillings using a tractor. Add all the costs including labor and top dressing. And when it is harvested, the price per back starts from as low as 1200 shillings.
Renting one acre of land in Uganda costs about 2500 shillings. A 50-kilogram bag of fertilizer in Uganda is about 2800 shillings. Most land in Uganda is fertile and the majority of farmers do not even require fertilizer to do their farming.
Despite the low prices of maize in Uganda, farmers always meet their cost of production as their counterparts in Kenya run into and count losses. The same case is replicated in the neighboring country of Tanzania.
No Kenyan maize in years to come
As weather patterns continue to change due to climate change, and as farmers continue to abandon maize farmers, in the next five years, there will likely be no farmer engaging in maize farming for commercial purposes.
This will increase the burden of food prices on the already emaciated Kenyans. This will also give the cartels the power to import maize from other countries and dictate their own prices the way they want.
There are reports that some senior officials in government have rented large tracks of land in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have planted maize to “export” the same to Kenya.
What can the government do to encourage maize farming in Kenya?
Lower the cost of production. As long as the cost of production will continue being high in Kenya, farmers will continue suffering and run away from maize farming. The government of Kenya needs to start by lowering the cost of fertilizer and giving farmers incentives.
Buy maize from farmers at good prices. The government should always be ahead in setting the price of maize for farmers who take their produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). The price should be competitive to attract farmers. At the same time, the farmers who deliver their maize should be paid on time.
Access to credit. There is an urgent need for Kenyan farmers to have access to credit at affordable rates. The same way the government has set up a fund for Kenyans to access mortgages is the way it should do for Kenyan farmers.
Limit the importation of cheap and poisonous maize from other countries. Imports from other countries are what kill the maize farming sector in Kenya. Importation should be made in a manner that maize only comes in when all the local maize has been fully utilized.
Field extension officers. During the time of President Daniel Moi, there was a field agricultural officer in every district who helped in carrying out research and helping farmers on what to plant. Nowadays, there is none and if they are they, they are busy hopping from one club to another and sitting in big offices. Farming has never been done from an office.
Is maize farming in Kenya worth it?
Currently, no. Maize farming is not something one would want to venture into as an investment at the moment. It is expensive in terms of input and once ready, the sales won’t bring even half of whatever one invested.
However, if one enters into a deal with private millers, maize farming can be a lucrative venture that can offer some good returns. The only problem is, this being Kenya, one would need to know someone who knows someone who knows another from the inside to be connected.