A section of farmers in the highly productive Subukia Sub County in Nakuru are languishing in poverty after a private company failed to pay their French beans deliveries worth more than Sh7 million.
The more than 400 farmers who had ditched tomato and maize farming for the more lucrative produce have asked the government to intervene in their standoff with Meru Greens which exports groceries declined to pay their dues.
The farmers staged a street protest whereby their chair-lady, Felista Karanja said most of the affected farmers had sunk in debt and depression because they could not continue their farming business.
“Meru Greens shortchanged us and we were hopeful that our fortunes would change for the better only for the client to withhold payment for four months starting December last year to March,” she lamented.
She added that there were arrears for November last year which was not fully paid.
Subukia is a highly productive area and farmers in the region were growing tomatoes for many years until 2015 when their produce was affected by the deadly pest, tuta absoluta, which was difficult to exterminate.
This left their farms infected with some resulting to ditch farming altogether while others started growing the usual crops like maize and beans.
This seemed better in 2018 when they the company approached them and asked them to grow French beans with a promise of a ready market and prompt payment. “The farmers and the company entered into an agreement that they would be paid after every one week from the date of delivering their supply at Sh50 per kilo but this was short-lived because the latter reneged on his promise,” said Karanja.
She said that the company paid them well for the first few months before they started having delays in payments and later stopping. Peter Wanyoike said this has impoverished her with her children dropping out of school because she had no other source of income. “I solely depended on this crop which matures within two and a half months. I cannot even change the crop because I do not have money to by input and labor,” he said.
Wanyoike said farmers sensed danger when the company started sending new people to deal with the farmers in November last year instead of the initial representatives. He said they had incurred major losses since they had been growing the cash crop in the semi-arid areas of lower Subukia thereby incurring an extra cost on irrigation. Another farmer, Josephat Kamau said that he had taken a loan to purchase water pumps for irrigation from a local river and has been struggling to service it. “Most of us had taken loans to finance the venture and banks are on our necks over the debts that we have been unable to service,” said Kamau. The farmers urged Parliament to formulate laws that will protect farmers from unscrupulous middlemen. Simon Ngugi said some companies were also running away with farmers produce and called on the government to take action against the company which has a canning plant in Kitengela. “Farmers in different subsectors have been suffering at the hands of brokers and it is time for the Parliament to come up with legislation to ensure farmers are cushioned against exploitation,” said Ngugi.
Meru Greens Director Gerald Muthomi admitted that they owe the farmers money for the said period and were working towards resolving the issue.
He said the company was yet to export Kenyan produce since December after a glut that saw them withhold their stock.
“We export our product to France and the country’s market has been unstable until April this year. The market is improving and we have started shipment two weeks ago,” said Muthomi.
Muthomi said the company owed the farmers and promised to pay once his businesses normalized.