The call to maize farmers to ditch maize farming for cash crops has in the recent days taken center stage in most of the forums attended by politicians, specifically the Deputy President William Ruto.
Deputy President William Ruto is challenging maize farmers to take the broad move of opting for Avocado farming which according to him has high demand in markets abroad.
According to the Deputy President, returns on maize in Kenya have been decreasing as years go by terming the move as a wakeup call to farmers to diversify farming as the only way of improving their income instead of solely relying on one type of crop for income.
Ruto is urging farmers to embrace the Chinese market opened up for export of local agricultural products following a deal sealed between President Uhuru Kenyatta and China’s Xi Jinping which clears Kenyan agricultural produce like avocado, flowers, and fruits for export to China.
But when we sit back and think about the Deputy President’s proposal, does it make sense? Is it worth for large-scale maize farmers from the North Rift and Trans-Nzoia counties to stop planting maize to replace it with Avocado farming?
Ruto’s sentiments were not well received by a section of leaders from these regions known to be the main feeding basket for Kenya where Ugali is the staple meal.
Maize is the main cash crop in the two counties which accounts for 70 percent of household income and towns within these areas come alive when farmers receive maize cash from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
Maize Farming in Kenya is the staple food for more than 80 percent of the population. Its average per capita consumption is 103 kilogram per person, relished by both the rich and the poor alike. It accounts for 3 percent of Kenya’s GDP. Kenya consumes about 300,000 metric tonnes of maize per month. This is equivalent to roughly 3.3 million 90-kilogram bags.
There is no way maize farmers can be convinced to neglect to farm the crop for Avocado which takes 1000 days before they are ready for harvesting, an equivalent of almost 3 years. Question is, for the three years, how will these farmers be surviving? How will they be paying school fees for their children and paying bills?
Who will feed the Kenyan households at the same time since Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia Counties are large scale maize farmers in the country?
The reality, however, is that Kenya has an open economy and maize imports find their way in from neighboring countries where the cost of production is lower than Kenya’s. According to the Kenya Revenue Authority, in the past seven months, traders imported a total of 3.28 million 90-kilogram bags of cheaper maize from within the East African region.
The consequence of such cheap imports is that local farmers, who have also harvested their produce recently end up lacking market to sell the maize since the imports dominate with cheap prices which easily attract millers.
This comes in the wake of the NCPB scandal in which unscrupulous maize traders were paid billions of shillings as ordinary farmers cried out for their payments.
Farmers do not have facilities to preserve avocados when they are ripe. They are not like maize which you can store for three years when there is no market.
The call to neglect maize farmers as can be thought through is not for the good of farmers but for the benefit of a few individuals who want to take over the maize industry in Kenya. These individuals want to take advantage of farmers who seem to be crying for the government to hear them out and offer them better prices for maize.
Farmers need to realize that maize has the potential to catalyze job and wealth creation in Kenya, contribute to increased incomes, and of course food security. It will, however, require a conscious investment from the public and private sectors to realize this. No single person can prove that neglecting maize farming will come as a relief, instead, it will be a big blow not only to the Kenyan economy but to households too.