Farmers warn of protests if NCPB delays maize buying

Farmers have threatened to paralyse operations in maize-growing regions today if the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) fails to open its stores.

MPs Silas Tiren (Moiben) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), who sit on the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, vowed to rally farmers to protest NCPB’s delay in buying maize.

“We will barricade major roads. We will make sure no business activity runs in Kitale, Baringo, Eldoret, Moi’s Bridge, Nandi and Iten,” Mr Tiren said.

Agriculture secretary Felix Koskei said last week that the vetting of farmers had delayed the buying exercise. This followed reports that middlemen were hoarding two million bags of maize ahead of the opening of NCPB stores.

But Mr Tiren accused the government of making lame excuses and buying time while farmers were left at the mercies of middlemen.

“These poor farmers are tired of waiting. The government promised to start buying in November and time has run out. We are approaching January where a farmer is expected to pay school fees, repay loans and also start sowing again,” Mr Keter said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday directed the national granary to buy maize to ease farmers’ financial burdens.

The NCPB is expected to spend Sh2.7 billion to boost its strategic reserve, but officials have declined to make their purchase price public, further unsettling the market that is grappling with rock bottom producer prices.

Maize farmers in North Rift – on of the county’s bread basket – harvested the new season’s cereal from early October.

The delayed opening of the cereals board stores has left farmers at the mercy of middlemen who are currently offering Sh1,000 and Sh1,200 for a 90-kilogramme bag of maize in anticipation of selling to NCPB for at least double their purchase price.

Desperate farmers are left with little option but to sell to avoid high transport, drying and storage costs. Since harvesting, they have had to incur repeated costs of open field drying to keep the moisture content below 13 per cent.

But now the farmers have vowed not to settle for anything less than Sh3,000 that the NCPB has been paying for a 90kg bag of maize in the last four years.

Agriculture principal secretary Sicily Kariuki, who is also the NCPB trustee, last week said that strategic grain reserve maize prices shall be determined by trustees who include officials from the Devolution ministry and the Treasury.

“Moving forward, a policy shall be put in place for determining seasonal maize prices based on cost of production plus an agreed mark-up,” said Ms Kariuki in an earlier interview.