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Economy

Food security outlook grim despite bid to boost output

Last week the Ministry of Agriculture released 517 metric tonnes of seeds for drought-tolerant crops valued at Sh178 million.

The vehicle carrying the seeds was flagged off by the minister, Sally Kosgei, with the seeds scheduled for distribution to farmers in 31 counties for planting during the long rains.

Ninety-nine districts were selected to bolster food security by planting the high- value seeds in the arid and semi-arid areas.

These include sorghum, millet, pigeon peas, cowpeas, green grams along with cassava cuttings and sweet potato vines that farmers will be able to purchase at highly subsidised prices.

Apart from being able to mature with little rainfall the seeds are rich in nutrients, hence the government’s continued efforts to popularise them.

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The 2012-2013 short rains season assessment report initiated by the Kenya Food Security steering group reveals that the country’s food insecure population declined from 2.1 million people in August 2012 to 1.1 million people in February 2013.

This is attributed to the significant improvement of the short rains towards the end of the season as many areas received average rainfall while some surpassed this.

The Kenya Metrological Department’s forecast project that the western and coastal parts of the country will experience between normal and above normal levels of rainfall.

They also note that the rains are expected to end early across the pastoral areas and coastal lowlands.

The March 2013 food security assessment report by the Ministry’s department of crop management shows that 40 million bags of maize were produced last year, with current stocks as at end of February  estimated to be 26 million bags.

There was an increase in the production of drought tolerant crops of up to 200,000 (90kg) bags.

Use of uncertified seed and low adoption rate of the drought tolerant crops by farmers were cited as reasons for output falling below the estimated potential.

Farmers are just recovering from a succession of failed planting seasons as the 2012 long rains were erratic in some parts.

The main seed producer, the Kenya Seed Company, last week also announced a 20 per cent increase in the prices, citing an increase in the cost of production.

The 25kg bag that used to retail at Sh3, 750 will now be sold at Sh4, 500 a factor likely to affect this year’s maize output.

The increase has also raised chances of farmers falling prey to cheaper counterfeit seeds that will in the long run reduce their output.

It is compounded by the fact that the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is not able to offer farmers subsidised fertilisers.

This follows an award of Sh500 million in February by a court to a supplier as compensation for a cancelled tender in 2004.

Maize production in large scale farming areas was reduced greatly after the Maize Lethal Necrotic Disease affected 35,000 hectares of land last year and the increased cost of fertiliser due to the lack of subsidy has raised fears of reduced production.

The report notes that nearly all of the subsidised fertiliser has been purchased by mostly large scale farmers and the remainder is not enough to meet growing demand.

With the country expected to plant 2.8 billion hectares of food crops during this rainy season, there is need  to find a speedy way of securing the 271,000 metric tonnes of planting and top-dressing fertilisers needed to boost output.

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