Gloom as maize farmers face Christmas with ailing pockets

Workers dry maize at Paul Marus’s farm in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. Farmers are now forced to sell their produce at throw-away prices. [File, Standard]
It will be sulky Christmas for most maize farmers, who despite a bumper harvest will be without money.

Since the government suspended buying maize to allow investigations into the scam at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), most North Rift farmers have been left with no option but to sell their produce at throw-away prices.

Those who had already delivered the produce to NCPB are yet to be paid to date, as funds for deliveries dating back to January continue to be released in installments.

Unlike previous years, many farmers will have to watch their pockets as they spend on the Christmas and New Year festivities as well as raise school fees from other sources.

SEE ALSO :Maize and sugar farmers to wait longer for report

Worst year

“This is the worst year. There is no market for our maize. We don’t know what to celebrate during this Christmas,” says Job Tallam.

Like many farmers, Tallam relies on maize farming to fend for his family and every year, he puts aside 50 bags to cater for the festivities.

“I could sell 50 bags and get around Sh150,000 and this was enough for the Christmas needs of my family but this year, things are different,” he says.

For several months, there has been a stalemate between farmers and the government over the new prices announced by the Strategic Food Reserves (SFR) Board.

SEE ALSO :Maize prices shoot in Rift as demand rises

The Sh2,300 per 90kg bag has met strong opposition from farmers who are pushing for Sh3,600.

Unlike previous years where people flocked to Kitale town to shop ahead of Christmas, nothing much is going on this year.

Business people in the town are not witnessing big crowds like before. There is no booming business.

A spot-check by the Sunday Standard indicated many shops in the town registered low business.

“Business always booms during festive seasons but things are different this year,” says businessman John Maina.

SEE ALSO :MPs warn on maize importation

Due to pressure from farmers demanding their dues, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri was prompted to table names of traders who allegedly delivered maize they had cheaply secured or imported.

Names of influential personalities featured in the maize saga after it was established that some were linked to companies suspected to have sold maize to the NCPB at the expense of genuine farmers.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at one time furiously threatened to take action against Kiunjuri should he fail to pay farmers.

Farmers were demanding to be paid outstanding Sh3.5 billion. The Treasury pledged Sh1.4 billion after farmers were vetted a second time.

A special Senate committee probing the scandal summoned Kiunjuri in October after his ministry was accused of using traders to import maize and get paid at the expense of farmers.

SEE ALSO :Farmers in dilemma over poor rains, costly fertiliser

As the maize issues continued to boil, President Kenyatta, during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega, ordered for a second task force chaired by Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago to find a solution.

Second task force

Kiunjuri told the committee that more than 4.4 million bags of white maize were imported illegally during the duty waiver period when the government declared drought a national disaster.

About 500,000 bags worth Sh1.6 billion were not delivered to the NCPB after the government stopped procurement of the produce.

This season’s crop was harvested from October and due to lack of market and with NCPB stores remaining closed, some farmers have been forced to sell it at as low as Sh1,500 per 90 kg.

The disillusioned farmers have to dispose of last year’s produce to create room for this season’s harvest.

Animal feed manufacturers are beneficiaries of the crisis and over the last three months have secured huge stocks of maizefrom farmers.

“I found it better to sell to middlemen and animal feed processors instead of letting it go to waste due to pests since I don’t have storage facilities,” says Fredrick Rono, a farmer in Kibomet.

After witnessing the crisis in maize farming, some farmershave shifted to dairy, anticipating better returns. This has seen the crop turned to fodder to avoid losses.

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Maize FarmersChristmasAgriculture MinistryCS Mwangi KiunjuriNCPBNational Cereals and Produce Board