Kenya fertiliser scandal newest threat to Ruto’s food agenda

Saturday April 13 2024

Members of the public collecting subsidised fertilisers for topdressing and planting at the Kakamega National Cereals and Produce Board in Western Kenya on April 9, 2024. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NMG


A substandard fertiliser scandal involving Kenyan officials and companies contracted by the government to supply subsidised farm input for the current planting season is threatening to wreck President William Ruto’s plan to improve the country’s food security.

Tests by Kenya’s standards body found the fertiliser supplied by at least two of the companies, and some of which has been distributed to farmers across the country, was substandard.

Some Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) officials have been suspended for having issued quality marks to the firms at the centre of the substandard fertiliser scandal.

The matter is currently under investigation by Parliament and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

Read: Leaders blame food insecurity on bad policies

The current probe targeting the standards body mirrors the one in 2018 when its then managing director and nine other officials were arrested and charged with attempted murder for allowing imports of substandard fertiliser containing mercury.


Fertiliser subsidy programmes in Kenya have a history of being targeted by procurement and regulatory fraud due to the billions of shillings put in by the government.

The latest programme, first implemented during the short rains in September 2022, had an initial outlay of Ksh3.5 billion ($23 million at then exchange rates).

President Ruto, whose administration has faced accusations of rising corruption, on Monday warned those involved in the fraud would be prosecuted and demanded that the suppliers compensate farmers who had bought the substandard fertiliser.

The president, who took office in September 2022 amid a biting food crisis associated with the country’s worst drought in 40 years and global supply chain disruptions from the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has prioritised policies to boost agricultural production to wean the country off food imports.

Kenya’s food import bill jumped by 41.25 percent during his first full year in office, exceeding expenditure on machinery and other capital goods, driven by a waiver on import duties to ease a food shortage and stabilise food prices.

Read: Woes of budget watchdog shine light on Ruto regime’s graft war

In its first major policy decisions on agriculture, the Ruto Cabinet approved the distribution of subsidised fertiliser to farmers and lifted 10-year ban on the cultivation and importation of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The order on GM crops has been challenged in court while there have been some green shoots from the implementation of the fertiliser subsidy.

The production of the country’s staple crop, maize was, for example, projected to increase from 34.3 million bags in 2022 to 47.8 million bags in 2023, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

An analysis by experts at the International Food Policy Research Institute showed that agricultural commodity prices, including maize, remained high in the country during that period, suggesting that the impact of the fertiliser subsidy was offset by an increase in tax rates and the depreciation of the Kenyan shilling against the US dollar.

The retail price of white maize increased by 43.9 percent between 2021-2022 and 2023.

An even bigger threat to President Ruto’s food agenda lurks in the latest reports of a fake fertiliser scandal that has sent farmers into a panic in the middle of another crucial planting season, coinciding with the current long rains.