Farmers Likely to Seize Uncertified Subsidy Fertilizers as New Planting Season Draws Near.

As the planting season fast approaches across the country, the topic of the availability and quality of fertilizer continues to uproar debate. It is not just about the quantity of bags distributed, but rather the mentioned number of bags meeting the farmers' needs, high yields.

Farmers around the nation have expressed dissatisfaction over insufficient supplies of agricultural input, and lengthy lines have been seen at several NCPB depots.

Decentralization of distribution is still a challenge for the government and the stakeholders involved.

There is always an excitement that comes with announcing the rollout of fertilizer programmes, which prompts farmers to yearn for it. What follows next is the snowballing effect and skepticism of the fertilizer landing on their hands, which lead to lengthy lines at the depots.

When it comes to the cultivation of staple foods like maize, it is vital to address the myriad challenges, including the fertilizer quality and quantity issues that impede productivity and food security in the country.

Yesterday, when attending a church service in Bahati, Nairobi, the president said that the wait for fertilizer will end soon.

“We have 5 million bags…farmers should now plant and be able to feed the nation,” Ruto said on Sunday.

In a move to protect farmers from higher costs of fertilizer, the government has been offering subsidies over the past two years. Following the subsidy program, an accurate and transparent e-voucher system was implemented to manage distribution, along with a farmer registration exercise.

However, there has not been much reporting on the success of this approach. In our interaction with farmers as Farmer-serving organization, a number of them indicated they were not able to benefit from the program, which had not set foot in their areas.

Additionally, incidences where the quality of fertiliser supplied to farmers has been called into question. Some farmers claimed to be recording poor yields after using the fertilizers supplied to them as compared to previous seasons. This has a net impact on household food security and disrupts the morale of many farmers.

Early in February 2024, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), appearing before the Parliamentary Agriculture Committee, admitted that there was substandard or fake fertilizer on sale in the Kenyan market. Considering over 80% of farming is rainfed, this is risky for the farmers, who may act out of desperation for timely planting.

According to KEBS, the product that was initially certified was different from what has been seized from some of the NCPB depots and condemned as substandard and counterfeit.

Opportunities and Interventions

Strict safeguards have been put in place by KEBS to guarantee the quality of agricultural inputs, particularly fertilizers, in the wake of the incident.

"Kenya Bureau of Standards has instituted a robust framework for ensuring quality agricultural inputs, including fertilizers. This is under the framework of Standardization, Metrology and Conformity Assessment Kenya Standards, which are the basis of evaluation of commodities manufactured and certified for sale in the Kenyan Market," said KEBS Managing Director Esther Ngari.

Proper timing of the rollout of the product should be done to prevent exposing farmers to losses, especially during this long rainy season. This stopgap measure needs proper coordination where the government can lobby farmers serving agencies, companies, and organizations to support successful implementation where all farmers benefit fully.

Moreover, the government should prioritize the reform of subsidy programs to ensure equitable access to quality inputs for all farmers. Transparent distribution systems, coupled with targeted support for farmers, especially at the smallholder level, can mitigate the challenges of input affordability and availability.

Investing in farmer education and extension services is crucial for disseminating knowledge on the right farm inputs. It is noteworthy that most farmers normally have no collateral for crop failure during presumed good seasons, and therefore, missing out at the input level is a big blow for them in terms of return on investment and food security.

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