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Raila says maize shortage ‘artificial’, imports to enrich cartels

Friday July 12 2019

Mwangi Kiunjuri and Raila

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri meets ODM leader Raila Odinga in his office at Capitol Hill, Nairobi County, on March 4,2019. PHOTO | CORRESPONDENT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANITA CHEPKOECH
By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga has urged the Agriculture ministry to shelve its planned importation of maize, claiming the shortage is artificial and meant to benefit cartels.

Mr Odinga said on Friday that he consulted widely with farmers and was deeply disturbed by conflicting reports on the need to import large stocks of maize ahead of the August-September harvest.

“I held wide consultations with farmers and their representatives, and with the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund (SFRTF)," he said in a statement to newsrooms.

"I am convinced that something is amiss and that the country may be getting dragged into the routine of artificial, ministry-made grain shortages to allow importation by a cartel in and out of government while consumers and farmers suffer."

'DISTORTION'

The ODM leader further said he was concerned about what he said was the routinely distortion of the grains market to pave way for cartels to make imports.

He called on investigative agencies to get to the bottom of the menace and bring the culprits to book.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on Wednesday said the country will import 19 million bags to meet a deficit.

But the SFRTF — a body tasked with providing a physical reserve stock and cash equivalent, stabilising the food supply and prices, as well as procuring, storing and selling food commodities — on Thursday opposed the importation.

RESERVES

Mr Noah Wekesa, the fund's board chairman, said there is no need to import maize since the country has at least 2,760,000 90-kilogramme bags, a quantity that will last until mid-August, going by the average of 1.5 million bags per month, ahead of the harvest season.

The former Wildlife and Forestry minister also said they were expecting good harvests from Bomet and Western regions and that visits to Machakos, Kirinyaga and Bungoma established millers had some maize.

“Sometime in September, we are going to start receiving maize from farmers in western regions and Bomet,” Mr Wekesa said.

He accused cartels of only being interested in lining their pockets.

CS's RESPONSE

In a rejoinder, the CS warned Mr Wekesa against issuing statements on planned maize imports, saying only the ministry is mandated to comment on the matter.

Mr Kiunjuri said the chairman’s claims that the country needed to import only two million bags of maize were reckless and amounted to insubordination.

"He (Wekesa) has no courtesy for the PS and the CS and has shown no respect for the last two weeks. Any other body that would like to issue a statement on maize imports cannot do that because the ministry has the final say."

'PLANS UNREALISTIC'

Mr Odinga further urged the ministry to shelve its “unrealistic” importation plans, saying it will only distort the market further.

“Instead, let us mop up the produce currently lying with farmers in various parts of the country before making any imports," he said.

"I agree with the fund that any deficits that arise after mopping up locally held maize should be sourced from neighbouring countries, specifically Uganda and Tanzania, which will have harvested their maize by August."

On Thursday, members of Parliament from maize-growing regions chided Mr Kiunjuri, accusing him of protecting cartels in the ministry.

Led by Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny, the lawmakers asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to sack Mr Kiunjuri as they believe changes cannot take place while he is in charge.

“If it’s about cartels we know he is their leader because he is the author of this maize shortage scheme," the MP claimed.