Even before the dust settles after unscrupulous traders milked the National Cereals and Produce Board of billions of shillings, another crisis is about to hit the Agriculture ministry.
This time shortage of fertiliser used during the planting of maize. This is likely to greatly diminish this year’s maize harvest.
The ministry, the Star has learnt, has not ordered subsidised fertiliser ahead of the planting season, which starts next month in parts of the North Rift region. Delivery of the farm input will require two months.
The long rains season, which maize farmers depend on, starts in March and ends in May.
Maize farmers, especially in the North Rift, start planting from mid-February to mid-March and start buying fertiliser from January.
It is still unclear what the ministry will do to ensure farmers get the fertiliser on time.
According to a senior official, who did not want to be named, the government has a two-year contract with the Export Trading Company Limited to supply imported fertiliser and the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities to supply some local blends.
The contract expired on January 11, 2019, (on Friday), and the government still owes the company billions of shillings from the fertiliser delivered last season.
“I believe the government will still pay the debt as there has been a proposal to extend the contract for another one year,” the official said.
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There was a proposal in the Agriculture Growth and Transformation Strategy to renew the contract until January 2020, but this is yet to be confirmed.
So far, the ministry is yet to get approval to order the import of 150,000 metric tonnes of CAN, NPK DAP and blended fertilisers for the next planting season.
The ministry says farmers need about three million bags of fertiliser for the long rains planting season, but the country has fewer than 500,000 bags of fertiliser at the NCPB stores.
But officials from the Ministry of Agriculture say the government is proposing to introduce the e-voucher system where farmers will access fertiliser from agrovets instead of having to import subsidised fertiliser as has been the case.
Kenya Farmers Association director Kipkorir Menjo on Thursday said he supports the e-voucher system as this will help farmers save time and cost of transport. “In the past, farmers had to travel from far to get fertiliser at the NCPB depots. It does not make sense for a farmers to get fertiliser at a cost of Sh1,500 and then spend another Sh500 or more on transport to access the fertiliser,” he said. But with the electronic system, one can just go to the nearest agrovet and get the fertiliser, then the supplier will claim payment from the government.
“The private sector will play a key role in ensuring farmers get quality fertiliser. I find this more convenient to deal with farmers through groups and cooperatives than dealing with individuals,” Menjo said.
He urged farmers to join cooperatives or farmer groups. Menjo also cautioned the government that time is running out as the planting season nears.
He said the government needs to engage farmers to come up with a mechanism on how this will be implemented so as to stop unscrupulous traders who are always out to look for loopholes to interfere with the systems and steal from farmers.
“The Agriculture CS should come to the grassroots and talk to the farmers before piloting this,” Menjo said.