Farmers losing crop months before harvest to unscrupulous traders and middlemen
One farmer surprised to find young men harvesting it from his farm and loading it into two waiting lorries.
A wave of theft targeting green maize is sweeping through farms in the North Rift.
Thieves and unscrupulous middlemen have been raiding farms, creating fear that some farmers might have little left to harvest.
Farmers waiting for their crop to mature are now afraid for the safety of their maize.
Others are also voluntarily selling their crop, saying this will save them the extra cost of harvesting, shelling and storage.
Although this is fuelling fears of food insecurity, local administrators say their hands are tied because there is no legislation barring farmers from selling green maize straight from their farms.
The maize thieves are selling their loot to maize roasters in urban centres. In other cases, brokers approach unsuspecting dealers of green maize and sell them produce behind the backs of farm owners, setting the stage for conflict.
One maize farmer was last Thursday shocked to find people harvesting green maize from his farm without his consent.
He also found lorries parked on his farm with strangers preparing to load them with green maize from his farm.
"I live a few kilometres from my 10-acre maize plantation in Kapkong village. A neighbour called me to find out if I had sold my maize after he saw youths harvesting on my farm. I was shocked to find more than 30 people on the farm. They had already harvested 4.2 acres by around 9am," said Dan Bett.
The farmer said he had no intentions of selling green maize and was waiting for his crop to dry.
"I met the trader who claimed he had been approached by a couple who laid claim to the farm. The couple apparently told him that they were in urgent need of cash to pay school fees," recounted Mr Bett.
He said the trader was duped into paying Sh28,000 per acre.
Bett spent the weekend negotiating with the trader to be compensated for the loss.
The two have sought the help of local administrators while the two lorries that were loaded with the produce were driven to Jua Kali Police Post.
"I had anticipated a harvest of more than 30 bags of 90ks each from every acre at the end of this season. Nobody told me of any intentions to buy my maize. This incident has greatly derailed my plans," he said.
Bett cautioned traders against entering into green maize sale agreements with brokers.
He suggested that village elders and location chiefs should be notified of any maize sales because they know the farm owners in their jurisdictions.
County Agriculture Executive Cyrill Cheruiyot said his department had received reports of isolated cases of green maize theft from farms for the purposes of roasting.
"Maize roasting is widespread and one cannot differentiate stolen maize from the genuinely bought produce from other regions such as Nandi and Burnt forest," he said.
He said the county could not enforce a ban on the green maize trade.
"Ideally, the sale of green maize could be banned to curb scarcity of food in the next season. However, there is no legislation stopping it since the market is free," said Dr Cheruiyot.
The thefts have spread to the neighbouring Trans Nzoia County, where farmers are demanding an end to maize roasting in the urban centres.
"Thieves raided my farm last week and stole hundreds of ears of green maize. I want the government to ban roasting of maize in the county to end the menace," said Patrick Barasa, a farmer in Bidii.
The thefts have also been reported in several areas in Saboti, Kwanza and Kiminini constituencies, with claims that the consignment is being sold to traders in Kitale town.
"We want maize roasting stopped in the county because it is ruining our farming activities and is a serious threat to food security," said Tom Nyagechanga, a farmer's representative.
There are fears that stolen green maize from the North Rift is finding its way to major towns including Nairobi, Kisumu, and Nakuru, where it is sold at between Sh15 and Sh20 per cob.
However, County Commissioner Anna Gakuria said her office had not received any complaints about green maize theft.
A spot-check in Kobujoi, Kaptumo, Namgoi, Mosoriot, Kabiyet and Kaiboi indicates that green maize is in high demand. The farmers say they prefer to sell the commodity from the farms where they are guaranteed of prompt payment.
"I have sold three acres of my green maize, with each acre fetching over Sh50,000," said Nicholas Kishor, a farmer in Mosop.
[Additional reporting by Osinde Obare]