Maize task-force recommends privatisation of NCPB

A task-force appointed last year to explore ways of dealing with chaos in the maize sector has recommended privatisation of the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), in a radical move that could see the Government sell its stake in the giant agency.

The team appointed at the height of the maize crisis last year wants NCPB split into a commercial and Government services wing to save it from the many challenges bedeviling it.  

If the proposals are adopted, 80 per cent of NCPB operations will be in private hands, while the Government will run 20 per cent of the board’s operations.

It also wants an increase of the strategic grain reserve from the current 4 million to 6 million bags, in what could see the agency purchase more maize from farmers.

“To make NCPB a viable institution, it should be privatised and restructured into a commercial enterprise. This will stop it from relying wholly on the Government for funding and ensure effective allocation of resources, tasks, responsibilities, authorities and accountability," states the 128-page report.

It adds: “The task-force recommends that the Strategic Grain Reserve Trust Fund be converted to a parastatal to enhance its autonomy and efficiency."

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The document was tabled by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri two weeks ago when he appeared before the National Assembly Agriculture Committee to respond to concerns over maize importation.

Farmers' issues

The session was one of a number of forums where farmers' issues have been laid bare, painting a picture of a sector in crisis.

Last year, a Senate team that visited Uasin Gishu was taken aback after farmers, some in tears, narrated their experiences in the hands of cartels that have captured the sector and denied them the promise of a better life.

They accused the Government of neglecting them even as they sweat it out in their farms to feed their families and pay school fees for their children. 

Key among their complaints is that well-connected businessmen have taken advantage of existing loopholes to deliver maize to the grain agency and walk away with millions at the expense of genuine farmers.

The task-force was gazetted last year under instructions from President Uhuru Kenyatta to review under-performance in the maize industry.

It was chaired by Mr Kiunjuri.

The Government has been under pressure from stakeholders to release the report, whose recommendations, if implemented, could be key in unlocking current challenges.

The proposal to privatise NCPB is designed to professionalise its operations, away from the current chaos in the agency. It could, however, attract criticism for its potential to create more opportunities for unscrupulous fat cats.

To deal with cases of fake farmers, the team has recommend that each county develops a register of its farmers, culminating into development for an aggregate national register.

It also wants the agency to be the sole importer of reserve maize and fertiliser in consultation with the Strategic Food Reserve Trust in a bid to stabilise prices.

The task-force was to examine the policy, legal regulatory and institutional framework of the maize industry and make recommendations. It was also tasked to identify challenges and make proposals necessary to streamline the sector.

Among the challenges identified are inadequate funding, political interference and corruption, which the committee noted had robbed farmers of the promise of a better life and reduced them to beggars.

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Strategic Grain Reserve Trust FundMwangi KiunjuriNCPB