By Elvis Ndiritu
The harvest season in Laikipia west is here once again, maize are in plenty, the weather is conducive for harvesting, drying and even transporting the produce to the market, yet farmers have nothing to smile about it.
The prices offered at the local market are too low and do not fully compensate the farmers for inputs, labor and time, spent on the farm! An estimated yield per acre is 25 bags of 90kgs which is an average harvest compared to expected maximum of 35 bags per acre.
|Maize being sun-dried at sipili market|
According to Maina Minjire, a maize farmer in Mwireri and Kagaa villages, the farmers have had difficulties during production including the cost of inputs and human wildlife conflict. Elephants attacked and damaged their crops leading to low yields. Wildlife attacks were however not as common this season unlike in the previous years.
The main challenge this year was sky-rocketing prices of farm implements tools, fertilizer, seeds and manual labor which have gone up by a big margin from previous years.
Prices are rapidly fluctuating on a downwards trend. In less than two months, the price has gone down from two thousand four hundred shillings (2400/=) per 95Kg, currently farmers are selling their Maize to brokers at Kenya shillings two thousand one hundred (2,100/=) per 95Kgs bag.
This means at the peak harvest season prices are diving to the lowest levels. Local trading centers in the area are now a beehive full of brokering activities, maize being the main product. Middle-men are collecting even small portions, where they buy a Kilogram at mere Ksh 22/=, this price is too low for the farmers to make a return on the investment.
The chain is even getting longer and longer, most farmers harvest their crops before it is completely dry, then they sell to local small scale traders who goes ahead to sun-dry the maize, before selling to another trader at a small profit of as little as one hundred shillings. Large scale traders have the capacity to bulk the produce or even transport it to bigger towns and some of the arid areas where the commodity is fetching higher prices. Farmers who have no contact to main market conveniences often rely on the price set by the maize tycoons and brokers.
The main market targets are at Meru and Mararal. At the moment, the Mararal market is saturated and that leaves the main market at Meru. The prices here are at around 2,650/= per bag and thus this is a profitable business but only for those who can afford to transport loads of maize to the places.
It is however projected that five months from now, that is at around April next year, the prices are usually as high as 3,500/=
Farmers in this place need to find out what they haven’t done to access this market. Arid lands information network is implementing a market access project which involve building the capacity of farmers, to manage the commodity value chains and by bulking to enable them gain the bargaining power when auctioning the produce.
The project relies on modern technology where famers are trained to use mobile phones to inquire for market prices in various towns.