Organic Dollars are Knocking on Your Door

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Here is a shocking truth – One metric tonne of urea costs about US$ 90 in Europe, US$ 500 in Western Kenya and US$ 700 in Malawi. These are not my words. They are on page 260 of the first ever report on the status of the World’s Soil Resources.

The report goes on to explain why this fertilizer is six times more expensive in Kenya than in Europe, ‘These high prices can be attributed to the removal of subsidies, high transaction costs, poor infrastructure, and poor market development, inadequate access to foreign exchange and credit facilities, transportation costs and lack of training to promote and utilize fertilizers.’

To put this explanation in street talk, “urea fertilizer costs an arm and a leg in Kenya because the government doesn’t subsidize it as much as the European governments; because the roads in the rural parts are generally lousy; because banks don’t generally welcome small-scale farmers with open arms and because these farmers remain pretty much unclear about the answer to this question – ‘how exactly is urea good for their farms and when should they apply it?”

I had planned to use this high cost of urea to lash out against both the global and national geo-politics that consign farmers in western Kenya and across the country to expensive fertilizer that eats into their earnings. But then I saw a silver lining in this cloud. This silver lining is right beneath the noses of these farmers – organic farming. You see, organic farming doesn’t need industrial chemicals like urea and instead uses easily available compost manure and biological pest control.

In 2014, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) undertook a study that brought to the fore the follies of fertilizer. KALRO’s report found that the widespread use of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertilisers had increased soil acidity in Trans-Nzoia and Uasin-Gishu, two of Kenya’s critical grain baskets. In this regard, the very fertilizer that was supposed to increase yield had instead landed lethal blows on that yield.

It is against such a backdrop that organic farming is not only desirable, but also necessary. The great thing is that it is not just good for the soil and crops, but also for the bank accounts. Organic farming is lucrative. Seriously so. According to the World of Organic Agriculture 2017 Report, the 2015 Organic Food market was worth more than 80 billion US Dollars! That’s right, it was worth almost 8.3 trillion Kenya shillings. Do you have any idea how much this money is? Although less than the 94.5 billion USD that Jeff Bezos the Amazon Founder is worth, it is enough to fund Kenya’s entire budget for a couple of years. All these trillions of shillings didn’t come from selling oil or those infamous Wall Street derivatives, but from selling good old vegetables and potatoes and maize and all manner of organic foodstuff that was grown in that tried and tested way that our grandparents used to employ before the chemical fertilizer revolution landed into Africa.

But how many of these trillions actually went to organic farmers from Kenya and Rwanda’s dusty villages? Good question.

USA consumes 11 per cent of the world’s organic food, making it the largest organic market. In order to have a bigger share of that 8.3 trillion (and counting), Mama Chantelle from Eastern Rwanda and Mzee Kodi from Coastal Kenya must have regular access to the lucrative US and EU markets. As the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming and the Kenya Organic Agricultural Network help smallholders to revert back to organic farming, there is need for much more effort from other players to link the organic produce from these farmers to the lucrative western market.

NB

Subsequent parts of these organic farming series will explain how the rallying call of the last paragraph is being met and how it can be further implemented.

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DJ Bwakali
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