Cereal farmers in the North Rift region have asked the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate irregular purchase of maize by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) even as they put pressure on the government to release over Sh5 billion for the crop delivered to the board.
They also want the Kenya Revenue Authority to be enjoined in investigations of cartels that benefitted from payments of cheaply imported maize they allege ended up at the NCPB stores.
“The two government agencies need to unearth the cartels paid millions of shillings after delivering huge consignment of the produce to NCPB and receiving payments ahead of harvest of the local crop,” said Kipkorir Menjo, the Kenya Farmers Association director, during a farmers meeting in Eldoret.
According to the farmers, the cartels that allegedly enjoy protection from some government officials delivered the maize to NCPB and influenced prompt payment for the crop.
“The fact that some of these cartels used heavy commercial trucks to deliver the crop puzzles many farmers who usually use small lorries and tractors to transport their harvest to NCPB. This is a matter that requires detailed investigations,” said Mr Menjo.
The farmers said cartels who delivered maize to NCPB received payments at their expense.
“The cartels took advantage of a loophole in the vetting process to deliver the maize undetected before the current long queues and delayed payments being witnessed started,” said Stephen Gathuo, chairman of Leng’use Farmers’ Cooperative Society.
The NCPB temporarily suspended the buying of maize last month to enable the Ministry of Agriculture to embark on vetting process to weed out unscrupulous traders who are delivering the crop to the board.
The process involves profiling farmers from the grassroots level to determine acreage under the crop and the yield.
The NCPB admitted two months ago that most of its stores in western Kenya are full to capacity, something farmers have attributed to cheap maize from Uganda.
“There is no way NCPB stores in non-large scale maize growing areas can be filled up yet the yield was expected to be low this season due to armyworm invasion and the drought during the planting season,” said Mr Menjo.
Deputy President William Ruto has admitted that cartels have infiltrated the maize sector making it difficult for the government to adequately address farmers’ plight.
“It has become difficult for the government to differentiate middlemen from genuine farmers when they take their maize to NCPB depots," said Mr Ruto.
He said the government has put in place stringent measures to root out middle men enriching themselves from the grain sector.
“We will not allow unscrupulous businessmen take advantage of our farmers. We will not use taxpayers’ money to pay brokers,” warned the DP in Elgeyo Marakwet County at the weekend.
The DP said the government has information of a businessman in the North Rift who is importing maize from Uganda and Tanzania, hurting the local market.
Moiben MP Sila Tiren has demanded that a list of those who import maize into the country at the expense of local farmers be tabled before Parliament.
“Some leaders claim that some farmers are colluding with brokers. There is no maize which comes into the country without passing through the border and the government knows every lorry that brings the grains. The list must be made public so that every Kenyan knows who is hurting our farmers,” said Mr Tiren.
The MP also demanded that the list of farmers who have received subsidised fertilizer from National Cereals and Produce Board be prepared and tabled in Parliament.
“We also want the fertiliser list because there are those are involved in the business of purchase and sale of fertilisers,” said the lawmaker.
Maize prices in the North Rift region have dropped to as low as Sh1,800 per 90kg bag after the NCPB suspended buying the crop.
The board was offering Sh3,200 per bag after the government allocated Sh7.1 billion for purchase of 2.4 million bags of the produce this year to replenish the strategic grain reserves.
But farmers claim cartels became major beneficiaries of the scheme and want the matter investigated with a view of taking action against the culprits.