Africa: Costs of Farm Inputs Still a Headache for Africa

Food experts call for efforts to reduce costs of farm inputs

In the months of May to July, Ololung’a market in Narok County has always been a busy spot with various agricultural activities happening in this maize-producing area. However, this year, everything seems relaxed and just a few tractors are packed by the roadside.

The rains have not been as promising and stretches of farms lie idle, un-ploughed. Pareiyo Oloomunyak, has always planted maize on his 17-acre farm. However, this year, he has reduced the area under production as the cost of ploughing and farm inputs has almost doubled.

He expects a reduced harvest but also prays for better payments from the sales he will make. He purchased a reduced number of bags of fertilizer which he sparingly applied to his farm against the advice of agricultural experts. “You find us using less fertilizer than recommended because we still want our crops to have a little boost, and maybe supplement with animal manure or other forms of organic manure.”

Maize farmers in Kenya have seen the highest recorded price of their commodity with a 90kg sack fetching onwards to Ksh 6000. The irony of the matter is that there are very few farmers with enough maize to sell as the production over the last few seasons has been low.

This low production has been attributed to unreliable rain cycles, pests, and high costs of planting inputs which has led farmers to abandon parts of their farms. The cost of fertilizer has largely been attributed to a global increase in demand for fertilizer as well as instability in Eastern Europe due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

To address the challenges facing African agriculture, AATF, an organization that empowers smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa with innovative agricultural technologies to improve productivity, has been conducting special sitting with leading voices in the agriculture sector in Africa.

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Through Africa’s key policy and decision makers; researchers; youth and women; and agricultural thought-leaders, Kikao series aims to stir conversations on how agricultural challenges can be addressed. The effects of the undertakings in the farms have been felt in the cities. Speaking during a Kikao Series on the role of global pandemics and conflict-related shocks on Africa’s food security, Dr. Joy Kiiru, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Economics, University of Nairobi, notes that what happens in the farms has a direct impact on the common citizenry affecting food prices and cost of living.

“We have seen people getting agitated by the rising cost of living. In some countries, we have seen unrest as people become increasingly unable to feed themselves,” she notes. In Kenya, she says some of the problems affecting the country are a carry-over from the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and imported inflation brought about by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

She states that between 2021 and 2022, the price of a common food basket in Kenya has gone up by over 20 percent. “We are talking about a simple basket of common foods like Sukumawiki, potatoes, maize, and other products used daily.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Kenya’s representative Ambassador Carla Mucavi notes that the rising food prices though global, have a direct link to national malnutrition and vulnerability.

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“We know that many families are skipping meals, eating unbalanced foods and are generally vulnerable to malnutrition. It is time global communities sought necessary incentives to cushion farmers in certain situations like what is happening now with the food prices,” she says

Mucavi acknowledges that both Ukraine and Russia are key global players in the food supply chain that includes fertilizer as well as food crops.

Yara, the Norwegian company leading in the global manufacturer and distribution of fertilizer is also a major player in Kenya. As a consequence of the Ukrainian crisis, its plants in Europe have been affected by reduced raw materials like Nitrogen and Potassium or the rising cost of fuel, a key catalyst to the production of agricultural fertilizers.

Early March, Yara announced that its two major plants in Italy and France were operating at 45 percent capacity in what it termed as “a consequence of record high natural gas prices in Europe”.

Equally, trade restrictions slapped on Russia and Belarus mean that they cannot move most of their products including fertilizer to East Africa.

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