The past three months have brought good news to the farming community in Kenya. I am now more optimistic than ever that the potential in agribusiness that we have been discussing as a nation will soon be realized.
First was the announcement by the deputy president that the ban on GM crops will be lifted soon. This in my opinion has been one of the factors that have made kenya uncompetitive internationally. Think of it this way, Kenyan farmers spend a fortune every year to protect their maize crops from pests such as stem boers, and lose millions to drought. With the introduction of the GM Maize varieties, such problems will become history and farmers can earn more from their crop.
Pests and drought tolerance is not the only benefits farmers will get from the GM maize, increased harvests will also be enjoyed.
Every year, around crop harvest time, the government and farmers suddenly sieze being friends and lock heads on the issue of maize buying prices. The argument has always been that the cost of producing a bag of maize in the country is so high that farmers do not make any profits once they sell the maize to the government. Recent studies have suggested that the cost of producing a 90kg bag of maize for instance in the Rift valley is around ksh1450. The buying price from the government was around 2800 last year meaning a farmer earns ksh 1350 per bag of maize in a season which ias usually one year. Assuming the farmer harvested 17 bags per acre(which is the practical average for small to mid scale farmers) then the farmer has made 17,000 per acre.
Now, for this farmer, assuming he is a young graduate to earn the same as some of his colleague fortunate to land a job paying ksh70,000 per month, he would have to farm 50 acres. Now, how many young people have 50 acres to farm? Very few I will tell you and this is one of the reasons why we have very few young farmers farming maize this is considering that the farmer does not diversify .
The figures we have discussed above will change drastically if we factor in costs saved in pesticide and losses due to drought translating to better profits for the farmer.
Another positive announcement that was made was the commencement of the construction of a fertilizer plant in Eldoret which could reduce the cost of fertilizer by 40%. Factor in the costs saved by using GM maize and now savings from buying fertilizer cheaply and farmers will be in business.
As Kenyan farmers, we should position ourselves to compete internationally or regionally and reduce dependence on the government. The regional integration drive by East African countries is meant to provide a larger market from trade to everyone including farmers. To do this, we have to offer our produce at a competitive price to reap the benefits of regionalization. For example, chicken farmers in kenya are facing stiff competition from countries like Uganda which export their eggs at a more cheaper price to Kenya. The Ugandan farmers are able to do this because their cost of production, majorly made up of feeds is very low. This can be attributed to the fact that the soils in Uganda are still fairly virgin and hence require little or no fertilizer at all to produce the Sunflower and cotton seed used for feed manufacturing.
For the case of maize farming, adoption of the GM crops and building of the fertilizer factories could enable Kenyans to position their produce at competitive pricing in the regional and global markets.