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Farmers threaten to eat bad maize if not bought

BUSIA
By | July 3rd 2010

By John Oywa and Daniel Nzia

The recent bumper maize harvest in Eastern and parts of Coast provinces — areas traditionally known for relying on relief supplies — has now become a headache to farmers after the grain was declared unfit for human consumption following suspected aflatoxin contamination.

With their grain stores full and the Government failing to buy and destroy the cereals as promised, there are fears residents of the affected regions could be consuming the bad maize or selling it secretly to brokers.

"It is horrible to imagine a situation where you go hungry yet you have food in the store," said Sebastian Ndambuki, a farmer in Machakos who also sells second-hand cloths in Nairobi.

His dilemma is just a case study of a bigger problem unfolding in the regions ever since the Government banned consumption or sale of maize in 29 districts where a record 2.1 million bags — about two-thirds of the total harvest in the two provinces — were confirmed contaminated with the deadly fungus.

Our investigations and information obtained from multiple sources indicate that the residents could have resorted to the bad grains due lack of other options.

Sluggish Pace

Although the Government announced it had released Sh3 billion to mop up the contaminated maize from the village stores, all indications are the programme is moving at a sluggish pace because farmers are either not willing to sell the crop because of the low price of Sh1,000 per 90kg bag or have not been approached by Government agents.

"Many farmers are still holding onto their maize because the Government promise to buy the grains is not forthcoming. Furthermore, many of us are not happy with the Sh1,000 per 90kg bag the Government wants to pay us," said Ndambuki.

In Nairobi, a senior Public Health Officer who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to speak for the ministry said it would be nearly impossible to stop hungry families from consuming the ‘bad’ maize.

A survey in Ukambani, which has been hit by the aflatoxin crisis, showed that the Government programme is yet to kick off. The situation has sent fear and panic among local residents as reports of aflatoxin outbreak filter across the region. A child died in Kibwezi District last month as a result of the fungus infection.

Lack Of Funds

Investigations revealed the Government has not yet released funds to the local National Cereals and Produce Board store.

"The programme is yet to take off because we have not received funds," said senior NCPB official who did not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The Standard On Saturday learned that farmers were also not willing to surrender their maize.

Local politicians are also asking farmers not to deliver their maize to the NCPB at such low prices.

Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka has promised to intervene in the matter and has since asked farmers to hold their crop.

Attempts to draw President Kibaki into the situation during his recent visit to Machakos flopped, when he steered clear of the issue even after local MPs raised the matter.

Agriculture Assistant Minister Gideon Ndambaki is reported to have told farmers the prices were applicable countrywide but later changed tune and asked farmers not to rush to sell the produce.

Makueni District Drought Management Officer Daniel Mbuvi confirmed local farmers concerns over the low prices. He said the farmers want to be paid Sh2,300 per 90kg bag of maize as was the case elsewhere.

Mwala District Agricultural Officer J M Kariuki said a recently formed inter-ministerial committee tests indicated 60 per cent of the maize held by local farmers was contaminated.

Machakos DC Benard Kinyua said the Government has since banned transportation of the grain to and out of the district to combat spread of aflatoxin, adding that the more than 280 bags of maize contaminated with aflatoxin remained under a 24-hour police guard at the local NCPB stores.

Officials at the NCPB head office declined to discuss the matter.

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