Raila: Maize cartels behind shortage, push for imports

Opposition leader Raila Odinga at Opoda farm in Bondo, Siaya County, during a farmers’ field day on Friday. [Collins Oduor, Standard]
Pressure continued to mount on Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri following the government’s plan to import maize.

ODM leader Raila Odinga criticised the CS over the controversial maize importation plan, saying it is aimed at ripping off farmers. Raila asked Kiunjuri to shelve the plan, claiming the shortage is artificial and only meant to benefit cartels.

Artificial shortage

“I am convinced that something is amiss and that the country may be getting dragged into the routine of artificial, ministry-made grain shortages to allow importation by a cartel in and out of government while consumers and farmers suffer,” he said.

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The Opposition leader said there is need to mop up maize held by farmers before imports are allowed in.

Speaking at his farm in Opoda, Siaya County, where he hosted farmers from the region to a field day, Raila said he has consulted widely and has reason to warn against a looming disaster if the government imports maize.

“Our farmers are likely to harvest in August and that means that by September, we will determine whether we have sufficient maize,” he said.

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Last week, the National Assembly warned Kiunjuri against the push for maize importation on grounds that the country has enough stocks in farmers’ granaries and National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores.

Members of the Agriculture House committee led by chairman Adan Haji told the government there was no justification to import maize.

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The ministry is pushing for duty-free maize importation to boost grains supply to millers and curb rising flour prices, which on average stood at Sh119 for a 2kg packet last month from Sh86.47 in March.

Millers have linked the rising prices to reduced supply of maize amid talk of farmers hoarding the grains.

The committee reckons that NCPB currently has 2.1 million bags of maize in its stores, and that there is a Cabinet memo directing that 1.7 million bags be released to the millers this month. The memo is, however, awaiting approval.

The MPs said farmers and traders are holding 1.5 million bags, arguing that the grains will last until September when current crop is harvested.

And on Thursday, farmers asked the government to increase its Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) stocks that stagnated at barely four million bags over the years.

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“During the 1970s and 1980s, the country used to maintain stocks of three million bags each of 90kgs to address emergency deficits while the population was still low. The rations have since been increased to only four million when the population has grown,” Grey Maina, a Uasin Gishu Maize farmer, told the SFR board in Eldoret. The team, led by former Cabinet minister Noah Wekesa, met North Rift farmers at TAC Centre in Eldoret following protests over planned imports of 12.5 million bags of maize to address grain shortages.

Pay delays

Farnie Kruger, chairman of Cereals Growers Association, said farmers no longer deliver produce to NCPB due to perennial delays in payment.

“Farmers have enough produce but do not trust the government due to payment delays. Regular vetting has demoralised grain producers,” said Kruger.

And speaking at the Bondo event, six MPs claimed the money was secretly and irregularly withdrawn by the ministry from the fund’s account at the Central Bank of Kenya and paid to a company without the board’s approval.

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MPs Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Silas Tiren (Moiben), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Robert Pukose (Endebes), Marwa Maisuri (Kuria East) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) made the allegations and called for Kiunjuri to quit.

They said the CS could no longer hold office in the midst of the fresh allegations.

The lawmakers also called on the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the Sh1.8 billion graft claim.

Raila said the State should allow the farmers to harvest and take their maize to NCPB stores to justify the shortage.

[Additional reporting by Titus Too]

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