North Rift Farmers Hold Protests Over Poor Maize Prices

Even as Kenyans in some parts of the country go without food, farmers in the country’s grain basket of the North Rift are spending sleepless nights seeking a market for their bumper harvest. Demonstrations rocked Eldoret town yesterday, with farmers issuing a 14-day ultimatum to the State to review producer prices.

Producers of maize and wheat, the country’s main staple foods, fear incurring huge post-harvest losses due to lack of stores and failure by the Government to offer better prices in the strategic food reserve, under the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). The challenge has been recurrent, prompting farmers to stage street protests after successive harvests to compel the Government to buy their produce and also set better prices commensurate with the skyrocketing cost of inputs and other operational costs. The North Rift counties of Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet produce an average of 12 million 90kg bags of maize annually, which farmers said can be bought from them and supplied to regions with food shortages to address the crisis. The counties worst hit by drought include West Pokot, Taita Taveta, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Wajir, Mandera and Isiolo, which have experienced decline in food and livestock production. Farmers said they find it ironical that Kenyans in some parts of the country are starving when they have abundance of food stocks, achieved through year-long toil. “This is our most difficult year. There was delay in fertiliser distribution and when it finally arrived, most of us got fake supplies that hugely affected our production. We asked for compensation and the Agriculture minister ruled that out and promised favourable prices after harvest. However, they have turned their backs on us now,” said Mr Musa Barno, the Uasin Gishu branch Kenya National Farmers Federation chairman. Barno said they may be forced to walk to State House if the Government does not publicly declare an increment in maize and wheat purchase prices at NCPB depots. Mr Patrice Chepkwony, a farmer, slammed the Jubilee administration for failing the farmer. He said the Grand Coalition Government had tremendously improved their livelihoods by cutting down the cost of production and offering good prices through NCPB. “We had 10 years of happiness under President Kibaki’s regime. It is sad that the Jubilee leadership has prioritised political campaigns and neglected economic development and food security issues, leaving farmers to languish in poverty,” said an agitated Chepkwony. A director of the Kenya Farmers Association (KFA), Mr Kipkorir Menjo, said: “We are not going to settle for anything less than Sh3,000 per 90kg bag of maize and Sh3,200 for the same quantity of wheat. The Government is used to taking us for a ride and overlooking farmers’ needs.” Maize producers say the Sh2,300 per 90kg bag of maize offered by the Government currently is too little to meet production costs. Menjo said farmers were appalled that despite presenting a petition to the National Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture earlier in the year over their challenges on fake fertiliser, high input costs and agreed for upward review of prices, the Government ignored them. According to Menjo, the Government allocated Sh2.7 billion to the Strategic Food Reserve in the last financial year and instead of increasing the amount this year, they slashed it to Sh1.6 billion, which is not sufficient to exhaust the farmers’ produce, exposing them up to exploitation by middlemen. “The Government should not only respond when there is a crisis. Farmers produce enough maize and wheat that can adequately feed the country,” said Menjo. Mr Kimutai Kolum, a large-scale maize and wheat farmer, said it was ironical that Kenyans in 23 counties are facing starvation yet they had plenty that the Government has failed to buy at a favourable cost. The Standard was yesterday unable to reach Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett for comment on the food situation in the country as his phone went unanswered and our short text messages were not responded to. CURRENT STOCKS NCPB officials could not give figures of current stocks in their stores in the North Rift as well as nationally, saying they are under instructions that any information should be through the Agriculture ministry. The board only purchases reserves from farmers using funds set aside by the Government through Agriculture ministry. Mr Silas Tiren, the MP for Moiben and also a member of the parliamentary committee on agriculture, said the country has enough food and challenged counties facing food deficits to liaise with those with surplus. “With the devolved units, there is need for counties to interact and work together. Counties with food shortages can organise themselves and purchase grain from those with surplus. There is enough food in our country,” said Tiren. He added: “We have enough maize and wheat in Uasin Gishu County, and we urge counties that face shortages to get organised and buy it from us.”

Source: Standard Digital Kenya