Maize farmers who toil every year to feed the nation have for many years done it with negligible assistance from the government.
Since Independence, there have been plans to lower prices of farm inputs through building of fertiliser factory to process about or more than 70 per cent of the input.
In 1970s, the government set aside money for the construction of Ken-Ren Chemical and Fertiliser factory for the purpose but it failed to take off because of among others, corruption.
Since then there have been empty talk of building other such facilities to ameliorate financial burden farmers undergo in accessing fertiliser during planting seasons.
A few years ago, Kenya was to go it alone after other East African countries delayed to honour an agreement to fund construction of the input factory, citing financial difficulties.
The government spends about Sh3 billion annually to provide farmers with low cost imported fertiliser. A blending plant was built in Ngeria in Eldoret in 2015 but it is yet to meet the market demand.
Japanese conglomerate, Toyota Tsusho plant blends imported fertiliser to suit local soils and crops requirements. Farmers progressed well in early 1970s to late 1980s when co-operative societies used to assist in making subsidised seeds and fertilisers available on time.
In the arrangement, they would take the inputs, sometimes without paying, after which money would be deducted when they deliver the produce to societies’ stores for selling.
Farmers were then given the balance after the maize is sold. National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and Kenya Farmers Association (KFA), had marketing agreements with the societies. They advanced fertiliser and seeds to them in time for planting, cutting delays farmers now undergo before planting as they look for inputs.
During the period, hoarding of the two inputs by traders only to sell them to desperate farmers when planting had already started was absent.
Post-harvest losses were also minimal because societies used to provide storage free of charge. However, these co-operative societies began to crumble in early 1990s because of politics and lack of funds from the exchequer, leaving farmers on their own.
About that time cheap imports of maize were allowed especially around harvesting time, forcing farmers to desperately sell their produce at throw away prices.
Before the mismanagement of KFA –which started in 1983 when former chairman Reuben Chesire was removed in controversial circumstances – the association used to provide subsided inputs including pesticides to farmers which ensured production.
It also used to provide subsidised farm implements such as tractors to farmers. Further, KFA which has been reduced to a shell due to years of mismanagement, used to give farmers and co-operative societies seasonal credits to improve on maize production. The Nakuru-based organisation, is now a limited liability company.
It changed from KFA to Kenya Grain Growers Cooperative Union (KGGCU) to now KFA Ltd.“The collapse of co-operative societies spelt doom to hopes of farmers producing enough maize and to build themselves economically,” says Kipkorir Menjo, a KFA director for North Rift. Over the years, he says, the government support for farmers has grown thin, leaving their welfare in jeopardy.
In early 1980s, the government withdrew Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) facility that used to cushion farmers against adverse weather conditions, citing misuse.
The scheme ensured even if a farmer loses a crop, there was a minimum returns he or she gets to enable them to farm the next season.
“It was like an insurance. When it was withdrawn, farmers started recording heavy losses, forcing most out of business. This resulted in reduced acreages under maize,” says Ernest Tormoi of the Eldoret based Kenya National Farmers Association (KNFA).
Those years, the country, he says, used to produce enough grain for local consumption and for export. In 1980, the government donated free maize to Zambia whose population was starving. Ironically, the Southern Africa country is now the biggest exporter of maize, thanks to reforms in its agriculture sector.