UNSUSTAINABLE

Only five per cent of Kenyan land suitable for maize farming - PS

Kenyans told to grow other crops to help shift the unending debate on overreliance on maize

In Summary

• The average cost of production for smallscale farmers per acre is Sh1, 600 according to Tegemeo Institute.

• Cost of food in Kenya is highest in Africa after Nigeria.  The average Kenyan spends about 45 per cent of the household budget on food, Agriculture PS says. 

Agriculture PS Hamadi Boya before the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the maize crisis on September 12, 2018.
Agriculture PS Hamadi Boya before the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the maize crisis on September 12, 2018.
Image: JACK OWUOR

Only five per cent of land in the country is suitable for maize farming, Agriculture PS Hamadi Boga has said.

Boga said it is time Kenyans stopped overreliance on maize production and concentrated on other crops.

"Kenyans are growing maize everywhere. Even in the ecological zones where they should be growing other crops that they could benefit from," Boga said.

The PS said that even in places suitable for maize, production is still very low, with an average harvest of fewer than 20 bags per acre against a potential of 40 bags per acre. 

Boga said farmers invest so much in an acre to produce maize but the returns do not always measure up. He spoke yesterday during the opening of the AGRO 2019 Conference and Exhibition at the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences on University of Nairobi's Kabete campus.

According to Tegemeo Institute, the cost of production for one acre for smallholder farmers is about Sh1,600, but farmers say it costs them Sh2,500 to produce an acre.

Boga said the government has signed a memorandum of understanding with universities, including UoN, JKUAT, Egerton and Moi, with a focus on agriculture. This is aimed at getting an objective analysis of programmes in the Ministry of Agriculture that guide decisionmaking, he said.

"Otherwise if we put artificial prices based on artificial production costs, we make our food very expensive," he said.

Statistics show that Kenya is second to Nigeria in the high cost of food globally.

"We spend 45 per cent of the household budget on food, while in Nigeria, it is at above that. We have to change the maize paradigm so we are able to produce enough in a scientific and affordable way so we can be competitive," Boga said.

In line with this, the PS said the ministry will be pushing for the increase of research funding, which is currently at 0.6 per cent to at least three per cent of the GDP.

"Institutions should help farmers increase productivity and come out of this situation. Agriculture is key in the country and if does well, the economy grows, and at the same time if the sector fails, the economy drags," Boga said.

Statistics 

• Agriculture contributes to 34 per cent of the country’s GDP.

• There are nine million small-scale farmers. 

• Ninety-eight per cent of farmers in Kenya are smallholders, while two per cent are large-scale farmers.

• The smallholder farmers produce 70 per cent of the food consumed in the country, mainly maize. 

• Two per cent of the large-scale farmers produce 30 per cent of food. 

(Edited by F'Orieny)