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Kenya Reports

Report #48
May 14, 2008

Outside of our house is a small plot of corn (maize) that our neighbor has planted. It is a luscious green, about 18 inches high, and growing like wildfire. The owner planted this corn around April 1. As we drive around the countryside, those who planted their fields about that time, likewise have lush green fields. But many others planted much later--some are still planting. In these fields the corn is just breaking through or only six inches high. When I used to be in agricultural development, one of the rules we tried to teach farmers was "early planting" -- as soon as the rains came. I am afraid that those who planted late will have a poor crop. Then as we drive toward Eldoret, where there are large farms growing corn, many fields have not even been plowed let alone planted. Normally Kenya is self-sufficient in corn.

Then there is another problem. The cost of fertilizer has skyrocketed to three times what it was last year. This is a worldwide problem as the price of oil used to make the fertilizer and to transport it has risen so much. The fertilizer importers say that they imported the usual amount of fertilizer, but they have large stock on hand since people did not buy it.

This is the fertilizer that is put on the field when planting. A second top dressing is put on after weeding. The Government has agreed to subsidize the cost of the top dressing. Yet since the farmers have not used the recommended amount of fertilizer on their corn when planting, the yield will be depressed.

The Government has given hybrid corn seed and fertilizer to some of the internally displaced people. On the one hand some of the IDP's have sold their seed and fertilizer because they can't return to their plots to plant and on the other hand local people are complaining that the Government is showing favoritism to the IDP's. I heard that when a shipment of fertilizer was brought to Turbo for the IDP's, the local people snatched the fertilizer away and severely beat one man from the IDP camp.

Reports indicate that almost 4 million 200 pound bags of corn were destroyed during the violence--a little over 10% of the crop. The price has shot up and even though we live in the Kenyan corn belt, we are unable to buy anything but small quantities (less than a bag) of corn. The Government expects there to be a shortage of 4 million bags by August and therefore will import this amount from South Africa--at what cost I don't know since corn is now at a record world price and there will be transportation costs on top of that.

My opinion is that this is only the beginning of the food shortage. Predictions are that the harvest this year, if the weather is good, will be down by 40%. If this holds true, then another 14 million bags will have to be imported in the coming year.

This increase worldwide in food prices as already caused riots in a number of countries. Is this being reported in the American media? Then one of the major causes of this price increase is the diversion of food into making of ethanol. I think you have seen large price increases in the US in meat, poultry, and dairy products--I was amazed at theincreases when I was in the US in March.

In Kenya, who is going to suffer? Naturally it is the poor who are already reported to be spending 50% of their income on food. The elite and middle class will be able t pay the increased prices. Will the plight of the poor be ignored? This will be one of those tests to see if Kenya is changing or not. If the plight of the poor is ignored, then we are back to the same old Kenya which gave rise to the violence after the election.

In the long run there is also a possibility that the rural farmers will benefit. In the past almost all countries in the world, including Kenya, have favored the urban centers by keeping food prices low. The rural folk are then unable to make a living off their land and so, many flock to the slums of the cities to try to make a living. Will high food prices make it less advantageous to live in the city and more advantageous to live in the rural areas? Will this be enough to reverse the flow of people from the countryside to the cities? Will higher food prices lead farmers to use better production techniques that increase yields?

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