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Farmers argue subsidised fertiliser useless without reliable irrigation

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By George Munene

According to the Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK), January 2023 Agriculture Sector Survey, 76 per cent of sampled farmers relied on rainfed agriculture which is mostly unreliable due to fluctuating weather patterns and argued that even with the distribution of government-subsidised fertiliser, there was little they could do without a sustainable water source.

Farmers recommended the sinking of boreholes and erection of the pivot center irrigation method which they consider to be more effective in watering their farms. This would help supplement the ongoing government programs on the establishment of dams.

Lack of alternative water sources predisposes farmers to climate shocks thus making them vulnerable to harsh weather conditions.

The 2022 October to December short rains were 70 per cent less than the 30-year average across most of the country and according to USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network was the fifth consecutive below-average rainy season in the country.

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Although farmers indicated that the last distribution of the subsidized government fertilizer was unequal, notable efforts to improve the distribution to more farmers were noted in the field with over 50 per cent of the sampled farmers having registered. 

This could be enhanced through automation of the fertiliser distribution process alongside the adoption of a last-mile approach to devolving fertiliser to the wards (Village level).

Most farmers recommended lowering of input and fuel prices, increasing subsidized fertilizer to improve agricultural production, and providing water for irrigation as key to improving agricultural production.

According to sampled farmers the key factors affecting agricultural production in the country included high input costs (24 per cent) and weather patterns (15 per cent).

Others included limited knowledge to manage farm inputs such as pesticides and herbicides as well as poor road networks to farms (12 per cent); Lack of funds for the purchase of farm inputs (9 per cent); long ques at National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to access fertiliser, cartels in the chain of production, lack of agricultural extension officers and a lack of market (6 per cent).

The Ukraine/Russia war, Covid-19, and technology captured under others had the least impact. Technology played a less significant role probably on account of the low adoption of technology/ mechanization in farming.

Some farmers indicated that they resort to the use of informal inputs such as charcoal dust to decrease acidity in soils. Respondents indicated that the uptake of farm inputs could be revamped through the improvement of the government’s agricultural input subsidy schemes such as the recent one on fertilizer.

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The survey was the fourth of the agriculture sector and was conducted from January 10 – 13, 2023  to obtain indicative information on the recent trends in prices and the sector’s output of key agricultural commodities in various markets and farms across the country. 

It drew respondents from wholesale, and retail markets, and farms in major towns across the country. These included: Nairobi, Nairobi Metropolitan area, Naivasha, Gilgil, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Nyandarua, Nyahururu, Kisumu, Mombasa, Kisii, Eldoret, Kitale, Meru, Mwea, Machakos, Isebania and Nyeri.

It is aimed at generating high-frequency agriculture sector data that provides additional information to support monetary policy decisions.

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