Maize or avocados: which way for North Rift farmers?

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri at National Cereals and Produce Board silos in Kisumu on November 13,2018. Kiunjuri was not happy with the management of the silos over the coloration of the maize in their custody.(Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)
A prod by Deputy President William Ruto and his allies that North Rift farmers should abandon maize farming in favour of other crops such as avocado has divided leaders and farmers.

Maize is the main cash crop in the region, accounting for 70 per cent of household income.

Towns in the region come alive when farmers receive maize cash from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

But farmers are now being goaded towards a paradigm shift to consider other crops that would give them a better bargain in the market.

SEE ALSO :Farmers caution on maize imports

A section of leaders are determined to convince farmers that avocados, mangoes, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbages are better alternatives.

This comes in the wake of the NCPB scandal in which unscrupulous maize traders were paid billions of shillings as ordinary farmers cried out for their payments.

Speaking during the ongoing Nakuru International Investment Conference 2018 in Naivasha on Friday, the DP said: “I heard some people say the other day that they are not interested in diversification because you cannot put avocados in a store or you cannot feed initiates on avocados,” in an apparent reference to a statement by Ainabkoi lawmaker William Chepkut who last week claimed that ‘Kalenjin initiates cannot feed on avocados.’

The DP added: “People are producing for markets to export while others are thinking of how to produce to go and put in a store. That is how low some people think in our country.”

Speaking in Tharaka Nithi on Saturday, Mr Ruto said he has agreed with the President Uhuru Kenyatta to enter ties with China and India with a view of opening up markets for new crops.

The statement came a day after Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said that farmers would be better off exploring other crops instead of relying on maize, which some leaders claim has been infiltrated by cartels.

Among those opposed to the diversification call is Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny, who termed it ‘misplaced’ and meant to kill the local economy.

“Farmers do not have facilities to preserve avocados when they are ripe. They are not like maize which you can store for three years when there is no market,” said Mr Kuttuny.

Other opponents of diversification include MPs Silas Tiren (Moiben), his Nandi Hills counterpart Alfred Keter and North Rift Kenya Farmers Association Director Kipkorir arap Menjo.

“How will I survive as a wait for the avocado trees to mature? Wondered Sheila Koech, a maize farmer in Elgeyo Marakwet.

Esther Kwambai, a maize farmer in Moiben, most maize farmers are now contemplating doing away with the crop in preference for dairy farming among other ventures.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos noted that North Rift ‘has other crops apart from cereals’ and urged the Government to establish a potato processing plant in the region.

His Trans Nzoia counterpart Patrick Khaemba said his administration will procure 150,000 avocado seedlings every year for free distribution to promote farming of the crop which has lucrative market globally.

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North Rift farmersmaize farmingNational Cereals and Produce BoardNCPB scandaldp william ruto