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.
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.
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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