Private companies package fertilizers to tame deficit

As Kenyan yields become depressed due to poor soils that are nutritionally deprieved, Kenyan private companies are positioning themselves to rescue the situation with introduction of cheaper and miniature packaged fertilizers.

Kenyan soils have moved from poor to critical as scientists indicate that about 99 percent of Kenyan soils cannot produce tangible yields as they are. The situation is exacerbated by the low intake of fertilizer which the farmers rely on to boost nutrients and spur growth in the wake of failed rains. Numerous reports indicate that Kenyan soils acutely lack nitrogen and phosphorus, important nutrients for plant growth.

A study by Farmlight International found out that cultivated soil in Kenya suffered an annual net loss of 46 pounds of nitrogen per acre, about 52 kilograms per hectare, removed from the field by harvests. Smallholder farmers in a bid to boost soil fertility are turning to conventional fertilizers. While Kenya doesn’t produce fertilizers, it imports all its fertilizer. Government has traditionally been involved in fertilizer import. But the delay in arrival of fertilizers has meant late planting by farmers which has ultimately had an impact on the food security situation in Kenya.

But fertilizer uptake has been dismally low in Kenya with the average use being less than 10kgs per acre, a far cry from the globally recommended 75kgs per acre. With such low fertiliser use, the nutrient balance in most production systems is negative. This results in depletion of soil nutrients which is a fundamental cause for declining food and cash crop production.

A journal Global Change Biology noted that acute underuse of phosphorus and nitrogen-based fertilizers in Kenya currently contributes to a growing yield gap—the difference between how much crops could produce in ideal circumstances compared to actual yields. This phosphorus- Nitrogen-specific yield gap currently lies at around 10 percent for subsistence farmers, but will grow to 27 percent by 2050 if current trends continue.

But farmers have been left at the mercy of environment and powers that be. A government fertilizer subsidy project meant to make fertilizer cheap and accessible to smallholder farmers by boosting yields has ended up doing the complete opposite.
Incessant complicated bureaucratic requirements and the delayed import of government-subsidised fertiliser have caused Kenyan farmers to postpone planting of crops over the years, potentially putting the food security of the country at risk.
Unscrupulous middlemen, keen on exploiting the farmers, also buy the fertilizer at the subsidized price and repackage it selling it at a higher price.

Studies have shown that the subsidized fertilizers serve a paltry 20 percent of the farmers leaving a staggering 80 percent unattended. But private companies have been willing to invest in assisting the government in closing the supply gap by packaging the fertilizers. However incentives have been conspicuously missing.

First the delay at the ports, coupled with the prohibitive cost of clearing and transporting the fertilizer has translated to higher prices which have locked thousands of farmers who should benefit from it. But Elgon Kenya has sought to reverse the pains. In a bid to remain true to its mantra of being a one stop shop for every Kenyan farmer, the company has now entered into the business of fertilizer importation, packaging and distribution. Kenya’s fertilizer woes stem from access and pricing. Elgon Kenya Limited has sought to correct the anomaly through importing the fertilizer and packaging it in affordable quantities specifically for smallholder farmers.

Under the brand name Elgon Thabiti, the three flagship fertilizers, Thabiti DAP, Thabiti CAN and Thabiti Urea, meant for wheat, barley, vegetables and sugarcane, now means farmers can access the fertilizers in time to continue with their food production. The fertilizer is packaged in 10kg, 20kg and 50kg bags. “I don’t have a lot of land and also wanted to maximize on the use of the fertilizer available. I couldn’t access the fertilizer first due to its late delivery and prohibitive pricing. But since I learnt about Elgon Thabiti my planting has been timely and it also means I save money,” said Mary Njenga a horticultural farmer in Thika who says with the introduction of Thabiti fertilizer she has doubled yields.

“As key industry players in the Kenyan agricultural sector and having interacted with our farmers over time we feel it is our duty to facilitate a sweat free farming experience for these farmers. We have noticed with a lot of concern how badly the fertilizer distribution channels in the country are arranged. We feel we need to step in and play our part with the packaging and selling of these world class fertilizers,” said Nelson Maina of Elgon Kenya.
The fertilizers can be accessed by farmers at reasonable prices across the country.