alexa Raila insists maize imports plan a plot to benefit cartels - Daily Nation

Raila insists maize imports plan a plot to benefit cartels

Friday July 19 2019

Raila meets maize farmers in Opoda

ODM leader Raila Odinga inspects maize at his Opoda farm in Bondo, Siaya County, on July 19, 2019, during a meeting of farmers and industry stakeholders. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

CAROLINE WAFULA
By CAROLINE WAFULA
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ELIZABETH OJINA
By ELIZABETH OJINA
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Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga on Friday took yet another swipe at Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri over the maize importation controversy.

Mr Odinga repeated what he said earlier - that cartels have created the impression that there is a shortage to create room for unnecessary imports.

He said there has been no justification for imports and that the action will only hurt Kenyan farmers.

“We don't want our farmers to suffer because of maize imports by some goons. We know who they are and how they litter our markets,” he said at his Opoda farm in Bondo, Siaya County, where he hosted farmers from the region to a field day. He did so in collaboration with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and the Siaya government.

“Our farmers grow enough maize. We don't want thugs to lie to us that there is a shortage," he added.

KIUNJURI ABSENT

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Mr Odinga spoke at an official event that Mr Kiunjuri was to attend, according to a poster circulated earlier.

The Odingas invited more than 500 farmers to learn farming techniques and crop varieties suitable under Siaya's environmental conditions.

In collaboration with Kephis, seed companies and other stakeholders, they planted crops including maize and vegetables as part of a demonstration for the farmers.

The ODM leader arrived on Thursday for the event but organisers said on Friday that Mr Kiunjuri would not show up and that Kephis' Managing Director Esther Kimani would deliver his speech. There was no representation from the ministry.

Dr Kimani said the CS apologised for not attending and that he had "urgent matters" to take care of.

The National Assembly’s Agriculture committee was represented by Busia Woman Representative Florence Mutua and Mogotio MP Daniel Tuitoek while Siaya Deputy Governor James Okumbe led county executives to the function.

Mr Odinga’s elder brother- East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Odinga and nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga were also present.

Ms Mutua said, "Let us use modern technology, stop importing maize and plan better for a country. With good planning we can have harvests for three seasons and stop importing maize because it is not an honest deal,” she stated.

RESIGNATION CALLS

The CS skipped the official agricultural event amid pressure for him to resign office over the maize importation plans.

Calls for Mr Kiunjuri's resignation came after it emerged that Sh1.8 billion was withdrawn from the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund (SFRTF) as an advance payment for the importation.

The minister recently said the country will import 19 million bags to meet a deficit, attracting scathing criticism from a section of leaders who termed the plans as suspect.

Six lawmakers claimed the money was secretly and irregularly withdrawn by the ministry from the fund’s account at the Central Bank of Kenya and paid to a company trading as Commodity House, without the board’s approval.

The MPs said the Sh1.8 billion was part of the Sh12 billion meant to clear debts owed to maize farmers and purchase of the current harvest.

They asked the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the matter.

SHORTFALL

Mr Odinga wondered how imports can be made before the shortfall is determined.

“Let our farmers deliver their produce to the [National Cereals and Produce Board] before you can start importing. How do you import before you know the shortfall we have? We know their tricks ... let them take their tricks elsewhere."

The SFRTF, which is tasked with providing the physical reserve stock and the cash equivalent, stabilising food supply and prices, as well as procuring, storing and selling food commodities, opposed the importation.

Chairman Noah Wekesa 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.

Mr Wekesa, a former minister and MP, said they were expecting good harvests from Bomet and Western regions and that visits to Machakos, Kirinyaga and Bungoma established millers had some maize.

In response to the reports, Mr Odinga had asked Mr Kiunjuri to shelve the importation, claiming the shortage is artificial and meant to benefit cartels.

But the CS warned Mr Wekesa against issuing statements on the matter, saying only the ministry is mandated to comment on it. He also said those criticising do not have the facts.

FOOD SAFETY

The Kephis MD noted that the organisation's mandate is to ensure certified seeds are available to farmers following licensing after national plant trials.

The next steps are release of the seeds to the market and the regulation of players in the sector.

Kephis' chairman Robin Achoki said they partnered with counties to ensure farmers get quality seeds, as part of efforts to promote food safety and ensure food security, one of the four pillars of the Big Four agenda.

Mr Odinga said he was happy to collaborate with Kephis, which approached his family, a meeting at which the Odingas agreed to set aside their farm for the demonstration.

He noted that Siaya specialised in cotton, simsim and groundnut production but that the trade collapsed due to poor management.