The most stressful time for any farmer is the planting season. Watching rain pouring relentlessly on a prepared field that has not been sown is a depressing feeling. It gets more pronounced when organized farmers who planted in time look at you in pity. Around the village shopping centre are many braggarts reminding anyone who cares to listen that they were done and planted two weeks ago. The cynical grannies weigh in, predicting hunger. On a really bad day, a relative from city will be found delivering a free lecture on why villagers should get off maize dependency and look to export crops. Unsolicited advice is an occupational hazard in the farming business.
When long rains start, the demand for seed and fertilizer always outstrips the supply. The desperation increases as the weeks fly by enough to raise government attention. The ministry offers a reassurance that the government is aware of the distress farmers are going through during these trying times. But to stay calm as cheaper fertilizer is on the way. When the government talks of farmers, it usually means people with large acreages that are capable of supplying maize to the cereals board. The regular subsistence farmer, recycling crop on a depleted one acre plot has to be a little more resourceful if they hope to have food at the end of the season.
Certified seed and farm inputs have become major cause for concern lately in my part of the woods. In the old days, farmers produced and stored their own seed. In fact in those days farming was not a profession. It was a way of life. Most people took the trouble to grow their own food. My grandmother retained good strains of seed stock through the years and always saved some for the new planting season. They did not need manufactured fertilizer as they perpetually produced farm yard manure. They cultivated by shifting land and the grounds always had time to replenish.
New generation subsistence farmers of my variety have little patience for natural processes. We only have one mantra, high yield. Therefore we abandoned traditional genetic stock for high yielding new varieties that come with a whole range of accompanying inputs.With proper seeds and a green house, I should have been on my way to tidy profits. But typically of any quick-riches scheme, many fail to read the fine print. The seed manufacturers and their sales men always promise high yields as long as you use the recommended fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides that are available at premier prices. When the same process is applied to the sole piece of family land over many years, the soils get depleted and the returns diminish. Pests develop resistance, which calls for harsher treatment or whatever new remedy the field experts propose. The following season, the fields are roused with more fertilizer and a new improved variety that guarantees high yields. The costs of farm inputs to achieve these aims eventually prove prohibitive for the small scale farmer.
I belong to a grain farmers’ cooperative in Yala town in Siaya County that insists that farm inputs must be sold with certified seed. The cooperative knows whats good for us and as grain farmers we must compile or lose out on the benefits of association. The combined cost is out of reach for most of the membership. The options are to hang around for a government subsidy or return to the open market to buy the quantities you can afford.
Our indigenous seed supply is disappearing at an alarming rate and many farmers are slowly finding themselves ensnared by tough restrictions of multinational agribusiness corporations controlling the seed supply. At this rate, only those who can afford the inputs will be allowed to grow food and that is a very scary prospect.