Cereals farmers from the North Rift region have demanded the arrest and prosecution of high-profile officials linked to the Sh1.9 billion maize scandal.
The officials include former Cabinet secretaries, Ministry of Agriculture staff and senior government executives.
The farmers on Tuesday dismissed the list of 21 traders said to have been paid huge amounts of money for delivering maize to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
They said the traders are genuine and well-known, and that they are being used as sacrificial lambs to protect cartels that have infiltrated the maize sector.
“The government should go for the big fish instead of engaging in diversionary tactics. How can you brand hardworking farmers who are toiling to feed Kenyans cartels?” asked former Eldoret South MP Jesse Mais.
Mr Mais claimed that during the delivery of maize to NCPB depots, trucks belonging to prominent individuals were being favoured at the expense of genuine farmers, who queued for months.
The farmers, drawn from the maize-growing areas of Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia counties, maintained that the government has the capacity to establish the list of all those who delivered maize to NCPB.
“I’ve been in maize farming and trade since 1982. I’ve assisted many people who can’t afford transportation costs by purchasing their maize. I feel sad when I’m branded part of a cartel,” said Ms Victoria Rotich, who was among the 21 individuals linked to the scandal after she supplied more than 200,000 bags to NCPB.
The farmers said the resignation of NCPB board Chief Executive Newton Terer and suspension of eight regional managers was not enough, saying they were small fish who received orders from above.
Mr Terer Tuesday maintained that the local Ministry of Agriculture officials were responsible for the vetting of genuine farmers, who delivered maize to the board. “The depot managers are independent people and the local Ministry of Agriculture officials and chiefs at location level know genuine farmers who delivered maize to the board,” said Mr Terer on the phone.
The board suspended buying of maize two months ago after it exhausted the budgetary allocation of Sh7.1 billion to buy 2.4 million bags of maize.
Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, who was among leaders who attended a farmers’ meeting on Monday in Eldoret, also defended the traders who bought huge quantities of maize from farmers. “No law bars local traders from buying maize from farmers,” he said.
The governor said millers should also be investigated, noting that their silence on the maize saga is worrying. “What is it that they know, we don’t know? It means the maize shortage experienced last year was created to enrich cartels,” said Governor Mandago. The farmers also demanded the setting up of maize buying centres to ease the delivery of maize. “Silos have become cartels’ paradise. It is where they lay and hatch their eggs,” said Mr Mandago.