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Wheat farmers raise alarm over exploitation by middlemen

By Mercy Kahenda | Published Mon, August 20th 2018 at 00:00, Updated August 19th 2018 at 23:19 GMT +3
Some of the scarecrows put by wheat farmers in Ololung'a in Narok South to scare away the invasive quelea birds. The birds have invade wheat fields leaving a trail of destruction as they feast on the wheat grain. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

Wheat farmers have accused middlemen of taking advantage of a bumper harvest to exploit them.

Chris Kuto, an official with Lowlands Holdings Ltd, which has been running a wheat farm for the past 20 years, said they were counting losses because of the high number of brokers coming in to buy wheat at low prices.

The middlemen are said to be purchasing 90kg bags of wheat at between Sh2,000 and Sh2,500, down from Sh3,500.

Millers have also reduced their prices, buying a sack at Sh2,800.

According to farmers, millers should buy the 90kg sacks for between Sh3,000 and Sh3,500 to boost income for farmers.

Deliver harvest

The farmers have been reluctant to deliver their harvest to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots, fearing delays in payment.

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“The NCPB has a lot of politics that is of no help to farmers. The board also takes months or even years to pay, which is bad for the farming schedule,” said Mr Kuto.

He said farmers depended on prompt payments to buy farm inputs and pay for labour.

According to Kuto, many farmers in the area were now contemplating abandoning wheat farming.

“It is discouraging to be making losses over and over again. We need to stop and think of another viable venture,” he said.

Wheat imports

A number of farmers blamed wheat imports for flooding the market and accused the national government of not protecting them.

“The Government should control the entry of wheat into the Kenyan market. It is worrying that during harvest time, traders bring in millions of tonnes, which affects pricing,” said Sam Bett.

But researchers say the future of wheat farming in the country is still bright.

According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), the demand for wheat in the country is still higher than supply.

The country, whose main staple is maize, imports approximately 1.2 tonnes of wheat to meet its 1.7 tonnes annual consumption.

"Researchers are working round the clock to find a solution to the many challenges that the crop is facing ranging from diseases and pests to drought. We need to produce more to reduce imports,” said Peter Njau from Kalro.

To boost production, Dr Njau advised farmers to practise proper land preparation, including using chisel ploughing instead of disc ploughing to help soils retain water.

“Regular monitoring of the crop is encouraged to get rid of weeds and diseases that are capable of destroying an entire crop,” said Njau.

 


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