The National Cereals and Produce Board has been hit with yet another scandal after an internal operational audit revealed that it was holding maize worth billions of shillings that is unfit for human consumption.
Following the disclosure, agriculture experts and farmers have demanded a quality assessment be conducted on 984,102 bags of maize estimated at Sh3.1 billion, even as the NCPB management dismissed claims that the produce in Kisumu, Moi’s Bridge and Bungoma silos was contaminated with aflatoxin.
Private millers in North Rift and Western Kenya region have joined in the fray, arguing that most maize delivered to the NCPB stores was of low quality due to the high Rotten Discoloured Damaged (RDD) ratio and they were reluctant to buy it for milling.
“Forensic audit and testing needs to be done to know if maize in the NCPB stores contains aflatoxin due to improper handling process,” said Mr Kipkorir Menjo, the Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director.
A report tabled by acting NCPB Managing Director Joseph Liguko in Parliament early this week showed that 1,551,027 bags of maize bought at Moi’s Bridge depot and 220,358 bags bought at the Kisumu silos were moulding, with high heat and insect damage.
The 1.8 million bags of maize are in 50-kilogramme bags, but the State bought 90-kilogramme bags at Sh3,200 each from the farmers.
Farmers and millers in the North Rift observed that most maize imported by brokers from Uganda was delivered to the three silos without undergoing any rigorous quality checks.
“The cartels were allowed to deliver the imported maize produce with high moisture content loaded on trucks and they were not vetted due to their ‘influence’,” added Mr Menjo.
But the cereals board has maintained that proper measures were put in place following the internal audit report that revealed that maize delivered to the three silos had high moisture content and was at risk of getting damaged due to moulding with high heat.
“The maize was dried and aeration done after our internal audit revealed that some of the produce had developed moulds at the top and there should be no cause for alarm,” Mr Titus Maiyo, the board’s corporate affairs manager, told the Sunday Nation.
He said the board was carrying out quality assessment of maize in its stores countrywide.
“It is true that the Moi’s Bridge, Kisumu and Bungoma silos received the highest quantity of maize and part of it did not meet required standards but corrective measures were later put in place,” added Mr Maiyo.
About 60,000 bags of maize with a moisture content above 13.5 per cent were delivered to the Kisumu silo before the board suspended buying in March. But some millers confirmed that some bad maize found its way into the NCPB stores, even after being initially rejected.
“We know of some influential traders and farmers who delivered maize to NCPB despite it being of low quality,” said a miller based in Eldoret who requested not to be named.
Six NCPB managers in the North Rift have been suspended, while several traders are under investigation over the Sh1.9 billion maize scam.
There are also fears that NCPB might have been forced to buy low quality grains after farmers in the North Rift last November complained of the stringent measures by the board and millers.
They said the requirement that the maize should have an RDD content of three per cent was too tough, considering the prolonged rains that had pounded the region. With the rains, the moisture content of the grains went as higher than 20 per cent, yet the board had said it would only purchase grains with a moisture content of 18 per cent and below.
The farmers had asked the agriculture ministry to relax the stringent measures to ensure there was adequate grain in the reserve.
Following the outcry from the farmers, then-Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett directed the cereals board to waive the drying charges to allow farmers to deliver their produce.
He also urged large scale farmers to take grains to neighbouring counties to help decongest depots in the North Rift.
Millers reckon that the bad maize can only be used in making animal feeds, as it is not fit for milling. But experts have opposed the move, saying it will expose consumers to health risks.
“The results of the analysis were that the bottom was infested while the top was moulding. The maize was last fumigated in April 2018 and sprayed in March 2018,” said acting internal audit manager A. Njoroge on the findings of maize bought at Moi’s Bridge.
In Kisumu, the internal audit indicated that grain in the bottom silo was noted to have high heat damage as well as high temperatures, while the top silo bins had high heat and insect damage as well as mould, due to a moisture content of 16.4 per cent.
In Bungoma, the audit team says the maize was found to be wet in several bins but the silo was drying it. The silo received 337,355 bags of maize worth Sh593.3 million from 25 farmers.