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    Maize production to stagnate as fertiliser prices rise & farmers find lucrative alternatives —USDA report

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    By George Munene

    According to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Office, Kenya’s maize harvests will remain unchanged this year due to a 71 per cent rise in fertilizer prices and the emergence of more lucrative alternative crops.

    Per the report, rice production is forecast to increase by 12 per cent, as will wheat demand.

     

    Maize

    Kenya’s maize production between 2022-2023 is expected to remain unchanged at 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) due to high fertilizer prices and farmers switching to alternative crops such as sugarcane.

    At the time of the report’s assessment, fertilizer prices were Sh 6,000 per 50kg bag, a 71 per cent increase from the previous year’s Ksh 3,500 per bag.

    More broadly in Kenya, some corn farmers are switching to more lucrative crops such as avocado and macadamia. The area harvested will continue to decrease with industry sources indicating that some farmers in the North Rift Region (which produces about 40 percent of Kenya’s corn) are switching to alternative crops such as sugarcane. For many farmers, sugarcane represents a better return on investment, particularly due to lower labor and tending requirements compared to corn. These lower requirements allow farmers to pursue off-farm employment after planting. Farmers who contract with private sugar mills also have an assured farm-gate price and are provided labor for harvesting by mills. The switch to sugar will be facilitated by the establishment of a new private sugar mill at Naitiri in neighboring Bungoma County. 

    Additionally, due to Kenya’s ongoing feed crisis, some farmers are harvesting their maize prematurely for silage. Kenya is currently suffering from a sharp increase in feed ingredient costs, ranging from 30 to 70 percent in 2021, varying by commodity. This crisis makes silage more attractive to farmers due to high feed prices,” reads the report.

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    Despite low domestic production, the prices for maize are likely to remain the same as in 2021 at Sh 2,700 for a 90-kilogram bag. This the report says owes to shifting consumer tastes and the phasing out of the government's strategic food reserves (SFR) program.

     

    Rice

    Rice harvests will rise from 80,000 MT to 90,000 metric tons (MT) due to the expansion of the Mwea irrigation scheme following the completion of the Thiba Dam. 

    This however is well short of the projected 720,000 MT demand, a three per cent increase from the previous year driven mainly by the re-opening of the hospitality sector following COVID-19 lockdowns.

    The prices for milled rice are expected to remain steady in the current range of Ksh 110 per kilogram and Ksh130 with aromatic rice selling at higher prices.

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    Wheat

    Demand for wheat is expected to rise to 2.25 MMT from 2.2 MMT. This is a result of restaurants, and bars remaining open and the tourism sector rebounding as.COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

    While high fertilizer prices will impact wheat production, the effect will be less severe than it will be for maize farmers. Kenya’s wheat farmers operate on a larger scale are more commercially oriented, and have greater access to financial resources which will help absorb higher fertilizer costs.

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