The Government has bowed to pressure to release Sh1.4 billion to pay farmers for maize delivered to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
Sources told The Standard the bulk of farmers earmarked for payments were those who delivered to NCPB depots in Nakuru, Moi’s Bridge, Eldoret, Bungoma, Kitale and Kisumu.
The announcement was made by Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who also said an inter-agency team had been formed to fast-track the payments, which will commence in the next 21 days.
Some 528 farmers will benefit from the latest payout.
Those targeted are small-scale growers who have been up in arms over delayed payments, amid claims that NCPB paid billions to unscrupulous traders at the expense of genuine maize producers.
“The amount of Sh1.4 billion released as per the budget for the financial year 2018-2019 will largely focus on the smallholder farmers first,” said Mr Wamalwa, whose ministry manages the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR).
The money is part of Sh3.5 billion owed to farmers for deliveries made last year, and whose payments have been delayed for the last eight months.
The payments come a month after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission ordered NCPB to stop payments pending investigations into a scandal in which unscrupulous traders were paid billions at the expense of genuine farmers.
“The investigations have so far disclosed that during the season 2017-2018, NCPB committed over Sh11 billion in SFR maize purchases. Out of which over Sh 7 billion has been disbursed to NCPB from Strategic Food Reserves accounts for payments to farmers. Leaving outstanding balance of about Sh 4 billion," read the letter addressed to Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri.
“Based on the aforementioned, it is advised that the pending payments be suspended until the investigations are completed to cushion the Government from any possible losses that may arise as a result of irregularities in relation to the payments.”
In Uasin Gishu County, more than 2,900 farmers are still owed Sh1.7 billion.
In Trans Nzoia and Nakuru counties, farmers are demanding about Sh500 million.
In his announcement yesterday, Wamalwa acknowledged the agony farmers experienced due to non-payment of their dues.
“Complaints were raised over the payments made to farmers for the 2017-2018 crop season and there were allegations payments had disadvantaged genuine farmers in preference of traders,” said the CS.
The Standard learnt that farmers will be asked to fill claim forms to ensure that only genuine maize producers who delivered grains to the board are paid.