As millers rush to import 6.6 million bags of cheap maize from Uganda, farmers in Rift Valley are stranded with their harvest after the Ministry of Agriculture scaled down purchases.
Farmers now say cross-border trade in cereals is hurting them while favouring millers.
They have petitioned the government to restrict importation of cereals, saying millers are taking advantage of East Africa Common market protocol to import maize from Uganda and hoard the produce to cause artificial shortage.
According to the farmers, cartels imported huge stocks of maize from Uganda at Sh1,800 per bag before selling the produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots at Sh3,200.
They named Bungoma, Kisumu and Nakuru as some of the NCPB depots where the cartels sold the imported maize after blending it with the local produce.
“We fail to understand why such NCPB depots like Bungoma, Kisumu and Nakuru are full yet the areas are not high producers of maize. They must have received maize from Uganda delivered by cartels that were cleared after posing as local farmers,” claimed Mr Wilson Too, a farmer from Moi’s Bridge, Uasin Gishu County.
A section of millers have admitted that cartels took advantage of the early opening of NCPB stores store to buy and deliver the produce.
“All we know is that most of the maize imported by cartels from Uganda ended up in the NCPB stores while most farmers were still harvesting the crop,” said a miller who requested anonymity.
The farmers said millers had avoided buying their maize due to high market prices set by NCPB, which is offering Sh3,200 per bag while the same is selling at Sh1,800 from Uganda.
“Most of these millers have sufficient maize stocks that they purchased under the subsidy programme, and the deal which allows them to import maize worth Sh6.6 billion from Uganda will further complicate market prices for the crop,” said Kenya Farmers Association(KFA) director Kipkorir Menjo.
The government sold its maize to millers at Sh2,300 per bag last year to sustain the Sh8 billion subsidy programme which lowered flour prices to Sh90 per two kilograms.
The programme ended last December and millers were expected to buy maize at market rates above the Sh3,200 per 90kg but maintain the flour prices at Sh 115 per 2kg.
“There is no way we could buy maize above Sh3,200 set by NCPB and sell the 2kg of flour at Sh115. This forced us to opt for cheaper maize from Uganda,” said a local miller who requested not to be named.
Kenya has inked a deal with Kampala to buy 6.6 million bags of maize at Sh2, 050 each to plug a deficit that has triggered a rise in flour prices.
The multi-billion shilling deal that was brokered by the Trade ministry will see local millers pay Grain Council of Uganda for delivery of cargo at the NCPB depots.
The board has scaled down purchase of the produce in maize growing areas — North and South Rift — due to lack of storage facilities.
Most silos in the region are full to capacity due to what the farmers say is the flooding of the local market by cheaply imported produce.
“It is only in the maize growing areas that we are experiencing challenges in receiving maize, but we have space in the rest of our depots,” said Titus Maiyo, NCPB communications manager.
“We have, however, received government approval to transfer maize from congested depots to areas with enough space,” added Mr Maiyo.
But most transporters are unwilling to carry the produce to areas away from highways due to extra costs and fears of wear and tear on their vehicles.
“It is true that some of the transports are hesitant to go to remote areas, where most of our stores are empty,” said Mr Newton Terer, NCPB Managing Director, in a previous interview.
But according to some farmers, the congestion is as a result of NCPB leasing some of its stores in urban areas.
However, Mr Maiyo said: “Leasing of the stores has not affected our operations since we have enough storage facilities.”
According to Director of Crops in the Ministry of Agriculture Johnston Irungu, the country has 3.1 million bags under Strategic Grains Reserve as farmers in the North Rift region experience difficulties selling the crop.
“Some farmers were hoarding their crop due to price speculation, expecting to sell above Sh3,400 per bag owing to the anticipated shortage,” said James Maina, an agricultural economist.
He said the farmers then rushed to deliver the produce to NCPB after millers had flooded the market with cheap maize, which has resulted in the prices declining to Sh1,800 per bag.
Farmers have expressed fears that the prices are likely to drop further after NCPB scaled down buying the crop after the Ministry of Agriculture introduced new measures to weed out cartels that have infiltrated the cereal sector.
A spot check by the Sunday Nation at Eldoret NCPB depot showed long queues of farmers waiting to deliver the crop. “I have been queuing here for the last two weeks and I am not sure when I will deliver the maize,” said Mr Moses Too at the Eldoret NCPB depot.
The farmers have petitioned the government to review its agriculture policies including liberalising the NCPB to allow it effectively compete in the liberalised market.