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High diesel prices push up cost of ploughing farms

Rising diesel prices have pushed up the cost of ploughing farms in what could see farmers cut back on acreage under crops, aggravating the food crisis further.

Farmers in the North Rift – Kenya’s bread basket – are grappling with higher costs of using their tractors or hiring them out to cultivate farmlands ahead of the rainy season at end of this month.

Hiring a tractor now costs Sh2,500 per acre from Sh1,800 in the last planting season.

“Farming is no longer profitable due to the high cost of production,” said Jonah Rotich – a farmer in Uasin Gishu with 20 acres of farmland.

The cost of diesel, which is mainly used to power farm machinery, trucks and buses shot up mid-last month to a 26-month high on rising global oil prices.

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Diesel now costs Sh91.38 a litre in Uasin Gishu, up from Sh69.98 in a similar period last year, representing a 30.5 per cent growth in the past year or Sh21.40 more per litre.

High expenses are partly to blame for increased food prices as farmers sell their produce expensively to recoup costs.

Agriculture remains Kenya’s economic backbone, contributing nearly a third of the gross domestic product and employing about three quarters of the national labour force.

The adoption of mechanised farming has, however, been hampered by continuous land subdivision that has seen farming fields divided into smaller units, making it not cost-effective to use the machines.

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Official data shows that Kenyan farmers purchased 2, 259 tractors in 2015, up from 2, 032 units a year earlier and 1, 179 in 2011.

Farmers now say they can only make a profit if the cost of a 90-kilogramme bag of maize increases to Sh3,500 from the current Sh3,000, signalling higher prices for the country’s staple grain. They have also cited rising costs of inputs.

Expensive food and fuel lifted inflation to a four-year high last month as the cost of living measure rose above the government’s target for the first time since January last year.

Inflation jumped to 9.04 per cent in February from 6.99 per cent a month earlier, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.

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Food, energy and transport costs have a significant weight in the basket of goods and services used to measure inflation, making them main drivers of the cost of living measure.

The KNBS data shows that a two-kilogramme packet of the staple maize flour is up to an average of Sh126 in February, up from Sh105 the same month last year.

A kilo of sukuma wiki is up to Sh54 from Sh36 over the past year while a similar quantity of cabbages rose by Sh26 to Sh74.8 over the period.

The rise in food prices has wrecked household budgets.

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