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Kenya is staring at a wheat deficit after farmers in North Rift cut the number of acreage under the crop, opting for maize following improved prices.
The country is a net importer of wheat, producing below 500,000 tonnes against an annual consumption of 1 million tonnes, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data.
Farmers who spoke to the Business Daily said the high cost of maintenance of the crop and poor prices forced them to reduce the acreage or abandon it altogether.
Last season, the national government increased prices of maize from Sh2300 to Sh3000 per 90 kilogramme bag.
Johnson Murei, a large-scale wheat farmer from Moiben in Uasin Gishu said he was forced to reduce the number of acreage from 500 to about 200 this season.
“The cost of producing the crop is very expensive especially the chemicals used to control weeds and rust.
"Most farmers in this area have planted less wheat this year, it is government introduces subsidy programme like maize so that farmers produce more wheat,” he said.
Farmers and traders in the country’s bread basket have increased maize flour prices in markets.
The price of a 90-kilogramme bag is retailing on average at between Sh4,200 and Sh4,800.
Kimutai Kolum, another farmer from Ziwa, also said that the cost of farm inputs had gone up for wheat farmers.
“The planting or harvesting is not a challenge for most farmers; the problem is how to maintain the crop.
"The cost of chemicals used to control weeds goes for Sh25,000 per 5 litres enough for 5 acres yet we also have to spray every two weeks to control the rust,” he added.
He said most farmers opted to plant maize due to better market prices as well as government fertiliser and top dressing subsidy programme, and anticipates that there will be high production of maize next season.
“However, we might have a lot of maize next year erratic weather and the fall armyworm invasion, those farmers who will not spray might lose the crop.”
The Ministry of Agriculture projects harvests of 32.8 million bags, down from to 37.1 last year — representing a decline of 11.5 per cent.
Drop in production
Maize production is forecast to drop by 4.3 million bags this year on delayed rains and armyworm attacks, setting the stage for expensive maize flour next year.
Egerton University think tank, Tegemeo Institute, says the cost of controlling the crop-eating caterpillars using pesticides will increase to Sh2,000 for a 90-kilogramme bag of maize for large-scale farmers from Sh1,700.
Crop-eating armyworms are likely to raise the cost of producing a bag of maize by Sh300, putting pressure on flour prices.
More than 15 counties, including Trans-Nzoia, Uasin-Gishu, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Nakuru, Busia and Bungoma, have been invaded by the pests.
Various county governments and national government have allocated funds towards the eradication of the destructive pest.
These are agricultural-rich counties and a widespread attack could aggravate the ongoing food crisis that has seen prices skyrocket.
“This year the cost of production is expected to go up following the invasion of the armyworms that has seen farmers incur an extra cost to put these pests at bay,” said James Githuku, a researcher at Tegemeo.