Whatever you do, do not mess up with our farmers (Part II – The first ‘M’)

Thursday May 30 2019

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Last week’s piece ended with a stern warning. The speed at which the Kenyan agriculture sector is falling prey to cartels, formed by unscrupulous tycoons in cahoots with fake politicians who do not feel the pinch of people’s hunger, is appalling.

The cartels are taking over as we watch in silence. They are after the four “M”. I will not deal with the two “C” (coffee and chicken). Coffee was already destroyed years ago, and its final blow may come from the Kuria Draft Bill that makes coffee domestic processing mandatory. This is dangerous, in real terms explosive, in a country that lives, thrives, hopes and depends on agriculture.

These four “M” which are key and essential sectors of the Kenyan economy are being handled recklessly by some government officials and some Members of Parliament, who are after quick profits, big gains from big pains and small brains. The first M is Maize.

The first M: Maize

The National Cereal Board Act formed the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). This board has broad functions and powers, including the following:

  • To regulate or to control the collection, movement, storage, sale, purchase, transportation, marketing, processing, distribution, importation, exportation, disposal and supply of maize, wheat and scheduled agricultural produce;
  • To buy, store, sell, import, export or otherwise acquire and dispose of maize, wheat and scheduled agricultural produce in such manner, such quantities and on such terms as it may, from time to time, deem necessary to fulfil the requirements of producers and consumers in Kenya;
  • To advise the minister on the proper production of maize, wheat and scheduled agricultural produce in relation to the needs of Kenya, and the extent to which control over the exportation and importation of maize, wheat or scheduled agricultural produce is desirable or necessary.

Section 15 of the Act states that the price to be paid to producers shall be determined by the minister after consultation with the NCPB. Basically, the law gives the board and the minister ample powers to decide anything to do with maize, wheat and other produce listed in the schedule of the Act.

What Tevin taught me

Tevin Gitonga, a young university graduate and a small entrepreneur, tells me that Kenya produced about 46 million bags of maize in 2018, which was way above the intended 40 million bags per year.

Why did we then import maize? Who has the right to order the NCPB to release maize to millers in Kenya if there is a shortage? Is it the strategic food reserve or the Ministry of Agriculture? No wonder such a delay led to reduced prices for our farmers.

Tevin also told me that the proposal as to whether Kenya should import maize to cater for the current deficit will be decided this week. This has all the classic hallmarks of a cartel waiting to reap big from innocent Kenyans. There is a high chance of a Maize Scandal Part II. It is now becoming the norm to steal in phases…so that, like in a movie, we are all kept in suspense.

Fake shortage, foul imports and bankrupt farmers

Already in April, the price of maize flour went up due to shortage, yet last year millions of farmers’ harvest went to waste since the government refused to buy it. If they had, we would not be in this predicament in the first place, and we would not have had to import #fakemaize unfit for human consumption.

Dr Kwenjera, a brilliant professional and a farmer at heart, explained to me that the government lost Sh7 billion after buying maize that was found to be unfit for human consumption.

It cries out to heaven that ten traders pocketed about Sh2 billion for importing and supplying maize to the NCPB, when in fact we had an excess production of 6 million bags. This absurd decision led to farmers being offered extremely low prices for their harvest in 2019, and this is partly what helped paralyse the economy.

This is not a witch-hunt. This is not a political decision but an ethical, social and essential decision. Theft in our agriculture sector must stop, or else the country will break apart. We may play with people’s minds, hearts and emotions…but we can never play with people’s stomachs. It is not sustainable; it is not fair.

Dr Luis Franceschi, Dean – Strathmore Law School, [email protected]