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By BARNABAS BII
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Farmers in the North Rift region have been forced to sell their maize at throwaway prices after the government suspended buying of the produce due to corruption.

A majority of the farmers who had harvested maize last season have now been forced to sell for as low as Sh900 per 90kg bag of maize to avoid losses. A bag of the produce would have gone for Sh3,200.

The government stopped buying maize to allow for investigations into the problems facing the corruption-ridden National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

With about 500,000 bags of the produce estimated at Sh1.6 billion in their stores and a harvest season underway, the disillusioned farmers have been left with little choice.

Animal feed manufacturers have now become the biggest beneficiaries as the prices seem to favour them and the farmers find it better to sell to them instead of the crop going to waste due to pests and mould as they lack proper storage facilities.

“I have no option but to sell the maize to animal feed manufacturers,” Ms Martha Kong’ato, a farmer from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County, who is holding 300 bags of maize, said.

For dairy farmers in the region accessing cheap fodder after maize prices dropped has been a blessing in disguise and the prices are likely to drop further due to the ongoing harvest.

“We can now mill our own animal feeds from the low cost maize produce that has cut down milk production costs,” Mr Joshua Melly from Cheboite, Nandi County, said.

Things have not been any easier for those who managed to sell their maize to NCPB before buying was suspended as they are still yet to be paid.

The government owes farmers Sh3.5 billion for maize it bought last season but the Treasury has pledged Sh1.4 billion after farmers undergo a second vetting.

“We are struggling to meet ends meet due to lack of a market for produce and delays by the government to release payment for maize deliveries to NCPB depots,” Mr Wesley Kosgey from Moiben, who has 200 bags of maize, said.

Interviewed farmers said creditors have issued notices threatening to auction their property to recover money advanced to them to invest in last season’s crop.

“We have resorted to overdrafts and shylocks for loans at exorbitant interest rates, which is likely to result in our assets being auctioned in the event we default in repaying the money,” Mr Mathew Kosgei from Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County, said.

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This comes as the government plans to re-introduce cheaper maize flour to protect consumers from exploitation by millers.

But agricultural experts and maize farmers in the North Rift said fixing of maize flour prices will destabilise the local market resulting in a decline in farmgate prices, thus subjecting farmers to losses.

Many farmers in the North and South Rift complained that the cheaper flour will hurt the already fragile local market considering the anticipated bumper harvest this season.

“The market forces of supply and demand should be left to determine the maize flour prices. Fixing prices will complicate matters further for farmers,” Mr James Maina, an Eldoret-based land economist, said.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on Wednesday directed millers and traders to sell a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour at Sh75 to protect consumers against exploitation.

But private millers in the region said the cheaper maize flour prices will trigger a dip in farmgate prices to less than Sh1,000.

“We shall have no option but to cut down on production considering that we are already experiencing low demand of maize flour in the local market,” Mr Kipng’etich Mutai of Innet posho mill in Eldoret said.

Some of the millers had increased maize flour prices by Sh4 to cushion them against losses following the enactment of the eight percent fuel levy.

“The cheap maize flour is a ploy by the government to divert the attention of Kenyans from economic hardships due to the effects of the Finance Bill 2018,” Mr Joshua Too from Saos, Nandi County, said.

A two-kilogramme packet of maize flour goes for between Sh80 and Sh100 in most retail outlets in the North rift region.

But most consumers are now opting for posho mill flour which they consider cheaper than that from the millers.

“I buy 2kg of maize at Sh50 and mill at Sh10 which is cost-effective,” Ms Rhoda Cheptoo from Ainet, Uasin Gishu County, said.



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