Maize shelling takes toll on farmers' earnings

Farmers in breadbasket areas of Kenya are spending upto 15 percent of their earnings shelling maize, a venture they decry as eating into their profits.

This is despite the fact that more expenses are incurred during land preparation and planting.
To hire people to do the shelling costs about Sh200 for a 90kg bag and with tens of acres that most of the farmers own the final cost has become prohibitively high.

The shelling machines in the area that are owned by businessmen are limited, and with all farmers harvesting their maize, the demand for the machines which are considered faster and cost effective is ever high. This has seen the farmers result to hiring people to do the shelling in a bid to get the maize to the markets in time.

Take Lydia Wambui for example who owns five acres of land all dedicated to maize production and which gives her around 100 bags every season. With the cost of paying labourers to do the land preparation and harvesting adding up to Sh1,500 per acre, the expenses to cater for the five acres are already high. She also needs to buy the prohibitively priced fertilizer and seeds.

But after harvesting she still has to part with Sh200 per every 90kg bag for shelling.
“The cost is expensive because there are only two machines in this location. We, therefore, have to book a week earlier because demand for the services is high,” said Wambui, who harvested her maize two weeks ago and shelled a week later.

The farmer spent Sh10, 000 in shelling her produce, a cost that is too high. “In some places, farmers are charged Sh100 per bag, but the problem is that most of us plant and harvest at the same time thus pushing up demand.”
The high cost of shelling brings to total the costs she spends on producing a 90 kg bag of maize to about Sh1500.

“Most of the money goes to land preparation, planting, weeding and agricultural inputs like fertiliser. Then after shelling there is drying, which is even more expensive,” she said. Again, most businesspersons who have mobile driers charge more than Sh400 dollars to dry a 90 kg bag of maize. There are fewer driers than shellers in the region.

“The high cost of drying maize has made many farmers rely on the sun, which is cheaper but labour-intensive because one has to hire people to help spread the maize each day in the sun and pray it does not rain,” said Kitale-based agricultural officer Bernard Moina.

Moina, however, noted there is hope for farmers as county governments have plans to buy driers and shelling machines that they will hire out at low cost. “Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties are implementing the plans. In fact for the latter, the machine has already been factored in the budget and farmers would soon get it.”
Moina admitted that the high cost of shelling and drying maize increases post-harvest losses, accounting for 30 percent of what the country produces.

“If farmers do not shell and dry their maize on time, it will rot. Those who rely on the sun, their maize risks being affected by aflatoxin because the moisture content may be higher than the recommended 13.5 percent,” said Moina as he acknowledged farmers spend a fortune to produce maize but the returns are little.

A 90 kg bag of maize in breadbasket regions is currently being sold at between Sh1200 and Sh1500 due to oversupply in the market. With such low prices, maize farming has turned out to be a loss-making venture.