No end in sight to problems facing North Rift maize farmers

Sunday January 7 2018

Eldoret NCPB depot

Agriculture CS Willy Bett (centre), Moiben MP Silas Tiren third (right) and NCPB MD Newton Terer sample maize delivered at the board’s Eldoret depot on December 16, 2017. The government is once again in the spotlight as farmers protest the rise in cross-border trade in maize. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BARNABAS BII
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The government is once again in the spotlight as farmers protest the rise in cross-border trade in maize.

The cost of flour is expected to rise following the expiry of the Sh8 billion maize subsidy programme.

The farmers said middlemen and millers were taking advantage of the East African Community (EAC) market protocol to import maize from Uganda and hoard the produce to cause artificial shortages resulting in rise of prices.

GATE PRICES

Destabilising the market for the local maize produce resulting in decline in farm gate prices has put on the spot Deputy President William Ruto and outgoing Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett who hail from the region.

Meanwhile, farmers are pressurising the government to buy the maize at competitive prices.

Mr Ruto has in the past called on maize farmers to take advantage of Warehouse Receipting System offered by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to store their produce as they seek markets.

He said the system will empower farmers to compete “favourably in the EAC common market”.

“Agriculture forms our economic blood vein and the DP needs to address the issues affecting it in order to sustain it as a profitable investment,” said Mr Philip Too from Saos, Nandi County.

STRATEGIC GRAIN RESERVE

In order to address some of these issues, the government has allocated Sh7.1 billion to buy 2.4 million bags of the produce this year to replenish its strategic grains reserve stocks.

The deal is way above the Sh3,000 per 90kg bag it offered last year guaranteeing steady market for the farmers and acting as price stabiliser.

The government has further procured more than 168,000 tonnes of subsidised fertiliser valued at Sh5 billion to be distributed to farmers for the next planting season.

But, the farmers have expressed disappointment over delays in payment of their produce by NCPB to enable them to invest in the next crop.

“We have delivered our produce but the government has not honoured its pledge to make prompt payment for the crop,” said Mr Samuel Langat from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.

PROMPT PAYMENT

The chairman of the National Assembly’s Agriculture committee and Moiben MP Silas Tiren has promised to take up the matter with Mr Bett.

“The last time we had a meeting with the CS it was agreed that a farmer is paid within 24 hours of delivery which has not been honoured,” said Mr Tiren. The NCPB had early this week bought 1.6 million bags of maize worth Sh5.1 billion as it waits funds from the government to settle the rest of the payments.

“We shall be making payments for the maize as we receive funds from the government,” said Mr Titus Maiyo, the NCPB corporate affairs manager.

The farmers have, however, said delay in payment was giving brokers room to profit by hoarding the produce to cause artificial shortage in the market.

BROKERS

“Some of these brokers enjoy protection from influential personalities in the government who are out to profit from the projected maize shortage,” said Mr David Kosgey from Waitaluk, Trans-Nzoia County.

Kenya Farmers Association Director, Uasin Gishu chapter, Kipkorir arap Menjo faulted the government for not putting in place measures to ensure that farmers get value for their hard work.

“We want them to prioritise local maize and ensure prompt payment of the delivery. The last time payment was made was early November,” said Mr Menjo.

Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute has projected that the harvest of 32 million bags of maize from the long rains season would only serve the country’s consumption demands until April.

According to agriculture experts, the government may be forced to consider similar subsidy programme interventions this year amid projections of steep maize imports from April to cover for a shortfall of about five million bags from the long rains season.

MAIZE IMPORTS

Food shortages in 2017 forced the country to divert parts of funds meant for development programmes to importation of maize.

According to Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe, maize flour prices are expected to increase from Sh90 per 2kg packet to Sh120 following the suspension of the subsidy programme. “The maize flour prices will increase but the margin is expected to be minimal,” said Mr Lesiyampe.

The Agriculture ministry projects the harvest will drop from 37.1 million 90kg bags to 32 million bags, setting stage for food shortage.

Maize production in Uasin Gishu County dropped from 4.4 million to 3.7 million bags this season while wheat yield plummeted to 430,000 bags from 466,000 bags in 2017.

“The outbreak of fall armyworms led to increased cost of production and low yield while heavy rains during harvest period resulted in rotting of the crop,” said Mr Joseph Cheboi, the Uasin Gishu County director of agriculture.

PESTS

The pests destroyed several hectares under the crop in Kitale, Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Busia, Nandi, Kericho, Baringo and Nakuru counties.

Trans Nzoia County, a high maize production region, harvested 4.7 million bags of maize down from five million bags last season and the yield is expected to decline further as a result of the fall armyworm invasion.

The ministry forecasts this season maize harvest will be 20 per cent less than the projected 40 million bags.

“The harvest is estimated to drop by 20 per cent which will complicate the already unsteady food security situation,” said Mr Bett.

The cartels have taken advantage of the projected maize shortage to import maize from prices as low as Sh1,800 at the border and blended it with the local produce before selling at local markets at exorbitant prices.

IMPORTS FROM UGANDA

Data from cross-border trade indicates that Kenya has increased its maize imports from Uganda, as grain prices rise due to post harvest losses.

In the past three weeks, Kenya has received close to 3,000 tonnes from Uganda through the border points, as prolonged rains reported in the North Rift – considered the country’s bread basket – cut harvests.

Data from the Regional Agricultural Trade Intelligence Network (Ratin), run by the Eastern African Grain Council which monitors real-time cross-border grain trade, shows that an average 700 tonnes of maize crossed into Kenya from Uganda every day last week.

According to the Ratin, the Busia border had recorded 881 tonnes, Malaba 4.1 tonnes and Lwakhakha 12 tonnes of the imported of maize from Uganda by mid last month.

BUY FROM LOCAL FARMERS

Trans Nzoia Governor Patrick Khaemba wondered why the government was spending a lot of money in importing maize but failed to allocate enough funds to buy the grains from the local farmers.

“I am asking the national government to increase funds so that we have enough grains in the reserves that can last even up to two years,” said Mr Khaemba.

Maize prices in the North Rift region fell from Sh3,800 to Sh2,300 in the past one month as a result of excess produce from Uganda under the liberalised EAC common market protocol.