A maize subsidy programme effected last year is now haunting farmers following flooding of the produce in the market.
Grain growers and millers in the North Rift say the programme messed up the local market by destabilising prices, which had been complicated by cheap produce from neighbouring countries under the East African Common Market protocol.
Whereas farmers are experiencing market challenges for the crop, millers have scaled up production to minimise losses as consumers shun their products in favour of the cheaply available posho mill flour.
Most millers have been pushed by prevailing market conditions to reduce their prices from Sh1,130 to Sh960 per bale due to the availability of cheap produce in the market.
“The two kilogramme packet is retailing at Sh80, which is far below the Sh90 under the government subsidy programme rolled out last year,” said Mr Evans Kili of Mfalme Mills in Eldoret.
The maize prices in the region – the country’s food basket – has dropped to as low as Sh1,500 per 90kg bag after National Cereal and Produce Board (NCPB) suspended buying from farmers. The board was offering Sh3,200 per bag before it put buying on hold.
This comes after millers entered a deal to import 6.6 million bags of maize from Uganda at Sh2,050 per 90kg bag to the benefit of the consumers who are paying less for the staple food.
The board last week released over 600,000 bags of maize from the strategic food reserve at Sh2,300 to the market, which is expected to further reduce the cost of a packet of flour.
However, farmers say they still have stocks in their stores due to lack of market even as they struggle to access capital to purchase farm inputs for this season’s planting.
“Our remaining market option was the millers after we were turned away by cereal board, but most of them are no longer accepting our produce since there is plenty in the market at low rates,” said Mr Wilson Too from Chepkumia, Nandi County.
More than 200 lorries and tractors belonging to the farmers which had lined up to deliver maize to NCPB in the North Rift, have been withdrawn as depots remained closed for lack of space.
Some of the millers have been forced to scale down operations as the demand for the sifted maize flour drops drastically in the market.
“We have no option but reduce our operations and possibly consider restricting due to low demand for our products by consumers,” said Mr Kipgnetich Kimutai from Ineet mills in Eldoret.
But low maize prices is major boost to the consumers most of whom have turned to flour from posho mills which is more affordable. “I buy two kilogrammes of maize at Sh50 and mill at Sh10 which is much affordable compared to Sh120 I’d pay for the same quantity in retail outlets,” said Ms Jennifer Cheptoo from Mwanzo in Eldoret.
Milk producers are also benefiting from the fall in maize prices as they access cheaper dairy meal which now retails at Sh1,500 down from Sh2,200 per 50kg bag.
Some the middlemen have been accused of importing maize in bulk from Uganda and delivering the produce to the NCPB stores immediately it opened its doors to buy the produce while the local farmers were yet to harvest.