It’s a not so merry Xmas for Kakamega farmers

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020 00:00 | By
A woman tending to a maize plantation. INSET: Roasted Kienyeji chicken. Photo/PD/COURTESY

The pandemic seems to be a double edged sword for Kakamega residents. As producers regret the price drop for some products, consumers have every reason to smile this festive season.

Maize flour and chicken delicacies  will make way on to most Christmas tables in poor households in the most uncharacteristic and abundance style this festive season, if the current price drop on the two most consumed products during festivities is anything to go by.

Market surveys and interviews by Agribiz on producers and sellers of dry maize and poultry in markets across Western Kenya last week revealed that the coronavirus pandemic could unwittingly bless poor households with the rare delicacies on their Christmas menu.

A mature three kilogramme cockerel currently costs nothing more than Sh1,000 in local markets down from the Sh1,500 it would ordinarily fetch during the same period in the past years.

The situation is replicated on the dry maize product where a 90 kilogramme bag currently retails for as a little as Sh2,000.

In good fortitude for farmers, at such a time, the bag of maize would be scaling the Sh3,500 mark.

With as little as Sh1,000, most families can now afford a modest delicacy of chicken and ugali this festive season as maize and chicken producers literally beg consumers to buy their products at throw away prices.

Benea Novenga, is one such maize farmer from Navakholo sub-county in Kakamega county. He says the maize market is adversely affected and they are being forced to sell their produce at low prices. 

Averagely, Novenga says he harvests about 100 bags of maize every year from his five acre leased plots spread across the sub-county

He reduced his acreage under maize this year to just three acres and harvested 60 bags and he has no market for the maize.

“This year, things didn’t work out well for me. The Covid-19 pandemic brought a strain on my finances and limited my maize production,” he says adding, “I always supply to local schools, but since the closure of learning institutions by the government in March, I’m unable to sell.”

“You can be sure there will be plenty of ugali and chicken on our tables this festive season, but no money,” he adds.  

Another victim of the pandemic is Francis Nzaywa. He has been a chicken trader at Kakamega municipal market for the past 15 years and boasts of creating market networks with both producers and consumers.

He, however, describes this Christmas as one like no other. 

“Everyone who will be making merry this Christmas will afford the chicken delicacy without digging too deep into their pockets.

A hen of one kilogramme live-weight is currently retailing at Sh500 just like beef. 

“We are in the Christmas week, yet a three kilogramme cockerel, which ordinarily would cost Sh1,500. is retailing at just Sh900,” he reckons. 

Nzaywa blames the pandemic for the supply glut, arguing a sudden mass production of birds (improved kienyeji) outside the traditional poultry production areas coupled by partial lockdowns of the hospitality industry resulted in the drop in demand. 

“I’m a chicken supplier, but when I compare the past years and now, demand for chicken in hotels and restaurants has dropped by over 60 per cent.

Our main clients are event organisers for funerals, weddings and social events and for us, we thrive when numbers are big. Yet currently the government limits the number attendees,” he observes.

The chief officer for agriculture, livestock and fisheries at the county government of Kakamega, Jeremiah Namunyu agrees that coronavirus pandemic has inadvertently served to hand Kenya an easy Christmas through drastic price drop on agriculture products. 

“Yes chicken will go for a song as producers scramble to dispose of the flock before January when chicken prices tumble.

For maize farmers, consumer prices are likely to remain steady into the next season despite the scheduled reopening of educational institutions.

He attributes the abundant food in the county to the administration’s food security policy, which seeks to guarantee food security for all households.

The county government farm input subsidy programme budget for the 2019/20 financial year was Sh600 million.

The money was spent on procurement of 100,000, 25kg bags of planting fertiliser, 100,000, 25kg bags of top dressing fertiliser and an assortment of seed maize brands. The farm input subsidy was available before the onset of the planting season. 

“We were the only county government that procured farm input subsidies for our farmers this year. These enabled them to plant on time and thus a better harvest.

There is no doubt that the prices of maize grain on the local market have stabilised at Sh2,400 per 90kg bag,” he explains.

He says though the department expects the prices to rise, it was unlikely that it would bloom to the Sh4,000 mark for a 90kg bag. 

“You know the pandemic has grounded all sectors of the economy. Heavy consumers of maize are learning institutions, which are expected to reopen in January and this would substantially mop up excess grains in farmers stores,” he says in conclusion.

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