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Farmers risk missing out on cheap fertiliser as row rages

Thursday January 24 2019

farmers

A farmers gets fertiliser from the National Cereals and Produce Board Eldoret depot. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GUCHU NDUNG'U
By GUCHU NDUNG'U
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Farmers across the country may not get subsidised fertiliser on time as a procurement row between the Agriculture ministry and the Solicitor-General threatens to derail the buying of the commodity.

The row was triggered when Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri wrote a letter to the SG’s office requesting a legal opinion on a contract signed in 2017 between the ministry and Export Trading Company Limited, which was hired to bring in the fertiliser.

But in a letter seen by Nation dated December 18, 2018, Solicitor-General Kennedy Ogeto directed the ministry not to procure maize using the same contract.

“We advise the ministry considers alternative options to procure the required fertiliser in accordance with the law,” the letter directed.

TIMEBOUND

The ministry had executed a two-year framework contract on January 12, 2017 with Export Trading Company Limited (ETCL) and was to expire on January 10 this year.

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But the letter also directed the ministry to allow the contract to expire and commence a fresh procurement exercise in accordance with the law.

According to sources at the ministry, the minimum days they can take to procure the 150,000 metric tonnes or three million bags of fertiliser is 57 working days, which may be too late for the planting season.

This is unless procurement is done on an emergency basis. Ordinarily, the fertiliser should be in by February to allow for distribution across the country in readiness for the long rain season in April.

UNIT PRICES

In the letter sent to the ministry, Mr Ogeto faulted the contract entered into with the ministry by former Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett in 2017, saying the deal was done without incorporating the advice issued by his office.

The solicitor-general also raised concerns over the varying of prices midway the two-year contract with ETCL.

Mr Ogeto noted that the contract was for an initial order for 150,000 metric tonnes of various types of fertiliser and the document indicated a unit price for each and total final cost.

But other documents between the ministry, ECTL and the National Cereals Board had different unit prices from the contract.

PURCHASE

According to a source at the ministry, the government was ready to procure the fertiliser using Export Trading Company Limited and the AG advisory came as a shocker.

“We were ready to buy the fertiliser before expiry of the contract when we received a directive not to proceed,” noted the source, who cannot be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

“From October last year, the ministry has been negotiating on the renewal of the framework because there was no budget set for the purchase of subsidised fertiliser,” the source said.

While addressing residents of Maina village in Laikipia-West last weekend, Mr Kiunjuri alluded to the difficulties farmers will face if the ministry does not buy the fertiliser.

“We will try our level best to provide the fertiliser. However, if we don’t make it on time, traders should not exploit our farmers,” he said.

Efforts to reach Mr Kiunjuri to clarify the next course of action were futile as he hadn't responded by the time of going to press.