By George Munene
Smallholder farmers who produce more than 70 per cent of the country’s food are now locked out of the Nairobi markets and suffering tumbling rural prices as a result.
The sudden collapse in prices and supply chains last week saw Kaari, a pig farmer at Chogoria, Tharaka Nithi, calling into Meru Fm seeking an alternative feed source for her 100 now starving hogs. Meanwhile, maize farmers in Meru are having to sell their produce at Sh15 a kilogram down from Sh30 – Sh40 per kg before the lockdown, as nearly all of the previously Nairobi-bound produce is rerouted to Gakoromone, Soko-mjinga and Makutano markets, causing over-supply.
Alex Maingi, an agricultural engineer and farmer, explains that most Kenyan farmers are smallholders, without the quantity of produce or the wherewithal to acquire the food transport licence required to transport food into Nairobi.
As Caleb Karuga, a mixed farmer and agribusiness consultant put it: “Most farmers would pay for a matatu to take a gunia of their produce to Nairobi; these farmers are now having to rethink their consumer base.”
Moreover, those who are able to transport food goods into Nairobi have increased the prices charged to farmers, as a result of their own higher costs, as Pius Muriithi. a farmer in Kiambere, Embu county, explained: “Leaving Nairobi, a truck or lorry that had just deposited agricultural produce would return with what would now be considered an inessential product.”
Now such trucks return empty, meaning they must earn the costs of both trips, there and back, solely from the agricultural produce going to Nairobi. This has considerably increased the cost of food freight.
The sudden stall on distribution to ready markets has been further exacerbated by the closure of schools and universities, which has seen farmers rerouting produce that was going into the educational establishments back to the open markets too.
For some farmers, a solution has been car boot food produce pop-ups along roads like the Northern bypass, Kabete and the Windsor hotel roundabout. But this is an option for the lucky few, who live in the right location and proximity to Nairobi.
For the rest, the search is now on for new ways to match the food Kenya is producing on its farms with the consumers who are still eating – 4.5m of them in Nairobi.