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Letters

LETTERS: Farmers bear the brunt of vested interests

NCPB silos in Nairobi
National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) silos in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In 2018, maize farmers in the country and especially in the bread basket regions of North Rift and parts of Western Kenya recorded a good crop season with maize surplus reported. However, this is as far as the good news goes.

General incompetence and laxity coupled with vested interests in the maize sector have conspired to ensure frustration is permanently scribbled on the faces of the maize farmers.

To begin with, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has introduced stringent quota allocations that lock out many large scale farmers, leaving them at the mercy of brokers and middlemen who exploit them by purchasing at throw away prices.

The NCPB capped the purchase of maize at 400 bags per farmer as the government attempted to tame traders and large-scale farmers who have been accused of abusing the window at the expense of small-scale growers. This coupled with delayed payments of deliveries and unnecessary bureaucracy does little to encourage any serious farmer to increase the acreage under the crop.

Enter 2019, and Agriculture Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri has announced plans to open the window for duty-free importation of 12.5 million bags of maize. This is enough to feed the country for eight months.

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One wonders why import at this time yet farmers are holding huge stocks of maize that cannot be absorbed by the NCPB. Further, most farmers have commenced harvesting of their maize crop, further exacerbating an already bad situation. It is not difficult to predict the winners and losers in this scenario. Quite naturally, maize farmers are protesting at the intended importation, but it looks like the die is cast. Their faint protests will shortly be drowned by the roar of the docking ships.

Certainly, if we want to make this country food secure and self-sufficient, we must jealously guard the interests of the maize farmers and protect them from the cartels, just like governments in developed world protect their farmers through subsidies and clever but discreet non-tariff barriers (NTBs).

Further, the NCPB needs to get more serious with the basics. For instance, why would 124,486 bags of maize get contaminated with aflatoxin at their stores, yet they employ some of the best agronomists and food scientists in the country? No excuse is good enough.

Then importation of subsidised fertilisers always come late, by which time the crop doesn’t really need it.One can’t help but see the invisible hand of powerful maize cartels in the unending woes bedeviling the maize sector.

John Okach, Yatta

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