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Sh15 million tractors grounded as farmers continue to suffer

The tractor-for-hire project was introduced by the Siaya county government to ensure mechanisation of agriculture.

When Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga bought 21 tractors to revamp agriculture, during his first term, many farmers were optimistic that their fortunes would change.

For years, they had been hiring tractors from the Rift Valley to plough their land.

Now, however, with less than three weeks left before Rasanga leaves office, the farmers have nothing to smile about as the tractors remain grounded at the Agriculture Training College (ATC). The tractors have been lying at the institution, now a constituent college of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University, for more than four years.

There are fears the Sh15 million tractor-for-hire project that had been meant to benefit local farmers has turned into a white elephant project. Farmers claim they are yet to benefit from the project.

Soon after the tractors were procured, they were in use for awhile before they were parked at the ATC grounds due to policy issues, according to the Rasanga government. 

Some of the Sh15 million tractors grounded at the Agriculture Training Centre (ATC) in Siaya town. The tractors were bought during Governor Cornel Rasanga's first term in office.

The tractor-for-hire project was introduced by the county to ensure mechanisation of agriculture. This meant more land would be under cultivation to improve production.

At the inception of devolution, the number of tractors in the county was about 20, but the current administration bought another 21 tractors.

Farmers would pay the county government between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 for ploughing an acre. They now have to part with between Sh8,000 and Sh6,000 depending on the size of the land being ploughed when they hire private tractors from Rift Valley.

Human rights activists and farmers who spoke to The Standard said hiring tractors is expensive for farmers from vulnerable households and this affects access to food security for the majority of households in the county.

Hillary Omondi, a human rights activist, said there is need for increased youth participation in the oversight of public resources.

“This will improve service delivery and ensure that such things do not happen when the next government takes over office,” said Omondi of Siaya Muungano Network Civil Society Organisation.

Omondi said the county government should explain to residents the fate of the tractors.

“The county government  spending up to Sh15 million to procure tractors that are currently grounded is a clear indicator our government is not keen on prudent utilisation of public resources and investment in projects that can change people’s lives economically,” noted Omondi

But in a rejoinder, Agriculture Executive Elizabeth Odhiambo yesterday said the tractor-for-hire project was not working optimally because of policy issues which have affected budgeting. Dr Odhiambo claimed there was need for strong policies and legislation to back the budget.

She denied claims the tractors were grounded and argued that they were just not being optimally utilised because when the project started there were no policies put in place to guide it.

“It was haphazardly done and truly we have learnt lessons because it did not work as expected and that means we had to go back to the drawing board and come up with necessary legislation to guide it,” she said.

The executive said the tractor-for-hire project is placed under the subsidy programme. 

She said it requires grants to enhance it and an Agriculture subsidy Bill to guide the use of the tractors.
The Agriculture subsidy Bill has gone through the assembly and the executive said they are just waiting for feedback from the county assembly.

“This Bill once it becomes an Act is supposed to structure the subsidy and grant system within the county. This Act will help us identify necessary beneficiaries, conditions under which subsidies should be managed and also process a committee that will be running the entire tractor-for-hire project,” she explained.