Deputy President William Ruto has admitted that cartels are frustrating maize farmers as prices continue to drop.
The drop in prices have been attributed to the bulk importation of cheap maize.
Mr Ruto, however, defended the government from accusations that it has failed to purchase maize from farmers most of whom have not planted this season. “It has become difficult for the government to differentiate between middlemen and genuine farmers when they take their maize to NCPB (National Cereals and Produce Board) depots,” said Mr Ruto.
The DP, who spoke on Sunday during International Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo’s homecoming party at Chepkosom Primary School in Uasin Gishu County, said the government has put in place measures to stamp out middlemen enriching themselves by exploiting farmers.
“We will not allow unscrupulous businessmen to take advantage of our farmers. We will not use tax payer’s money to pay brokers,” he said.
Moiben MP Silas Tiren, who was also at the function clashed with Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen over the government’s failure to address farmers’ plight.
“I’ve been branded a rebel to the extent of being removed from the position of the chairman of the parliamentary committee on agriculture. I will not be cowed in fighting for the welfare of farmers who elected me,” said Mr Tiren.
This came as MPs and the Agriculture ministry agreed that no delivery of maize to the NCPB depots or any other authorised government agency will be allowed until the source is vetted.
A joint statement signed by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and the chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Agriculture Adan Haji said the move is aimed at flushing out unscrupulous traders who import and deliver maize to the board posing as farmers.
“With immediate effect, no maize will be accepted by the NCPB or any other authorised government agency before vetting,” said the statement.
The committee was on a two-day retreat at Nyali Sun Africa hotel in Mombasa, where it met various departmental heads from the Agriculture ministry to address matters of food security.
The CS, however, said those currently in queues to deliver maize have been exempted from the farm vetting. “We are aware that there are 120,663 bags of 90kg maize valued at more than Sh386 million which are already in queues. Those will not be vetted. Similarly, on payment for maize already delivered to the NCPB, verification will be done to ascertain the source of the maize before those who delivered are paid,” Mr Kiunjuri said.
Data on cross-border trade indicates that Kenya has increased its maize imports from Uganda.
In the past three weeks, Kenya has received close to 3,000 tonnes from Uganda. The imported maize sells at Sh1,800 per 90kg bag compared to the Sh3, 200 offered by the NCPB and Sh2,400 in the retail market. The board suspended buying of maize after it exhausted its budgetary allocation and farmers want the government to approve a supplementary budget.
But Mr Ruto said the government has intelligence that a businessman in the North Rift is importing maize from Uganda and Tanzania hurting the local market. “If there’s somebody who understands maize farming, it’s me,” said the DP.
Mr Ruto explained that farmers supplied more maize to the NCPB depots than had been anticipated. He said farmers supplied one million bags of maize to the board last year, which consumed a budget of Sh3.5 billion, but the supplies increased this year to 3.5 million bags which has consumed a budget of Sh7.1 billion. “We’ve however released the remaining Sh2 billion which will be paid to farmers this week,” he said.
Yesterday, farmers reacted angrily to claims that they were being used by brokers. “In the next polls, we will elect people who will be serious in solving challenges in the agriculture sector,” said Mr James Kibet from Moiben.
Reported by Wycliff Kipsang, Barnabas Bii and Kazungu Samuel