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    The more than 260, 000 small-scale tea growers in the country will have to pay more for fertilizer after the National Treasury failed to factor in subsidies for  the essential input in the 2015/2016 budget.
    The increment hits farmers hard, barely a month after the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference, which among other concessions, settled that African countries scrap agricultural subsidies.
    Kenya spends KSh3 billion on fertilizer subsidy as well as KSh1 billion on certified seeds.
    In 2014/2015, farmers received a KSh321 fertilizer subsidy per 50kg bag of DAP.

    Failed promises

    Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei had promised KSh500 subsidy this year, which could have sliced the prices further for the farmers.

     KTDA imported 64, 200 metric tons (1.3m bags) of fertilizer between July and August last year  for distribution across the country.

    A Sang'anyi Tea factory farmer Andrew Chuma told FarmbizAfrica that he had to part with KSh700 extra per bag by the end of 2015.
    "In 2014/2015, we paid KSh1,800 per 50Kg bag of fertilizer. But this year, I have had to pay KSh2,500 for each bag. This is actually eating into our earnings, compounding losses incurred when tea is in surplus, or during drought," he said.

    Chuma, who hails from Nyamira County, said fertilizer prices slightly vary in cost according to the distance from Mombasa to the factory.

    Ministeral conference

    During the WTO ministerial conference held in Nairobi in December last year, ended by securing an historic agreement on a series of trade initiatives.

    Christened the “Nairobi Package”, it contained contains a series of Ministerial Decisions on agriculture. These included a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, which Director-General Roberto Azevêdo described as the “most significant outcome on agriculture” in the organization’s 20-year history.

     “WTO members — especially developing countries — have consistently demanded action on this issue due to the enormous distorting potential of these subsidies for domestic production and trade,” he said.  

    The agreement was reached at after a number of countries were found to have been using export subsidies to support agriculture exports. The legally-binding decision would eliminate these subsidies and prevent governments from reverting to market-distorting export support in the future.

    Document

    In the decision, developed members committed to remove export subsidies immediately, except for a handful of agriculture products, and developing countries will do so by 2018.

    Developing members will also be allowed to cover marketing and transport costs for agriculture exports until the end of 2023.

    This means that the Sh3 billion Kenya spends on fertiliser subsidies and the Sh1 billion certified seed support can be factored into the budgets of national or county governments until 2023.

    History

    The fertilizer subsidy program in Kenya began in the 1970s, and has implemented by state organs like the National Cereals and Produce Board and KTDA, who have been given the support to sell the product at low prices.

    Aid agencies and Western governments have often taken issue with the practice and in 1980’s there was increased pressure for African governments to drop it, noting the programs discouraged private sector businesses.

    A number of countries dropped their subsidy programs due to the pressure, but some to disastrous consequences.

    Malawi, for instance, followed the recommendations to eliminate fertilizer subsidies, and ended up suffering food shortages in 2005, following terrible harvests. The government later reinstated fertilizer subsidies and good harvests were recorded in following years.

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    As the mango harvesting season approaches, farmers should be looking at export prospects as a way of making better earnings than they have been by selling them locally.

    Ministry of Agriculture officer Samuel Mburu says the surplus production of mango fruits during peak season of December-March has often been linked with losses on the part of farmers, who fail to select their markets well.

    Farmers and vendors often sell their produce at throw-away prices for fear of losses, occasioned by the perishable nature of the fruit, yet they can chop them up and dry them for export.

    Mangoes, which on average cost about KSh30, can shed off their price by up to a third to retail at KSh10 in local market, like Nairobi's Wakulima and Gikomba.

    A kilogramme of dry mangoes can fetch between Ksh650-KSh700 in export, according to Mburu. It requires about 6Kg (or  7-10 pieces) of fresh mangoes to make 1kg of dry chips.

    “Japan and China are ready markets for dried mango chips. In fact, this market is stable all year round and can ensure regular earnings for farmers,” he said.

    East African Growers and Keitt Exporter Ltd, among other companies, buy, package and exports this fruit and many more others on behalf of farmers.

    Stratregy

    Off-season production (June–August), can let farmers enjoy high local prices because the markets are usually not saturated around this time.

    “But export produce must be of high quality,” Mburu, who is based in Machakos County told Farmbiz Africa.

    Mr. Mburu advises farmers to select the pesticides they use wisely and also ensure that their produce are protected from diseases.

    “Farmers lose between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of their produce to pesticides and diseases. Even if not all fruits are affected directly, quality is not guaranteed.”

    “Quality produce starts with growing clean planting materials, and proper pest and disease control,” he said.

    To look out for

    Anthraxnose is one of the most common diseases that affect mangoes, and Mburu recommends planting of less susceptible varieties such as Tommy Atkins, Madoe, Keitt, Vandyke, Matthias, Sabine and Sabre.

    Cutting and properly disposing affected parts of the plant can save on a great deal besides regular pesticide spraying.

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    Tanzania, Egypt and other onion producing countries have taken over the Kenyan onion market with reports indicating Tanzania is supplying Kenya with more than 50 per cent of the product. Farmers in Kajiado County's Oloitokitok Sub-county, which has been the main supplier of onions for the Kenyan market for years cannot compete with Tanzania's counterpart.

     

    High input costs
    James Murua, a retired Ministry of Agriculture extension officer in Oloitokitok, said taxation on imported agrochemicals, seeds, fertilizer among other inputs have made the critical farm inputs expensive on the part of the farmer, leading to meager returns after harvests.
    " No one would invest to harvest a loss. For instance, the cheapest hybrid onion seeds per kilogramme cost KSh10,000. A farmer requires about three kilogrammes for one acre.  He will not compete with a Tanzanian farmer who used Mang'ola seeds (Tanzania's locally bred onion seeds)," he said.
    Mang'ola, which costs KSh500 is not certified by the Tanzania’s seed regulatory authority, although it is common with farmers there.

     

    Advantaged
    A global competitiveness study by USAID in 2015 indicated that funds spent on agriculture in the country are less than half that of regional competitors.
    Despite the strength of the private seed sector, seed availability remains a problem in Kenya. Most farmers get the growing material through export companies, who have exclusive contracts with seed companies, the report noted.
    Murua, who worked in the region for five years said a farmer will need at least KSh20,000 to pump water for irrigating onion farms. River and rain water sources are not reliable in Oloitoktok.

     

    Other options

     

    It is such heft production costs that are gradually making farmers opt for other crops.
    Joshua Majakisi, the county Executive for Water and Irrigation who has also held the Agriculture docket soon after establishment of counties, said tomatoes have more returns than onions.
    "A farmer will harvest more than once from tomatoes, unlike onions. And a crate would fetch anything between KSh4,000 and KSh8,000 depending on the market demand. The highest a 15kg onion net can fetch is KSh1,200.”

     

    Majakisi concludes that with competition from neighbouring countries, Kenyan farmers have no competing chance.

    The current Agriculture Executive at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries, in Kajiado County, Jonah Orumoi was not available for comment, instead saying in a text message that he was busy and promised to call later.

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