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Maize prices continue to fall as grain buyer the National Cereals and Produce Board’s NCPB depots remain closed

NEWS
By Titus Too | November 23rd 2014
Farmers demonstrate aboard tractors along the Eldoret-turbo highway in protest over the delay by the government through the National Cereals and Produce Board's (NCPB) to purchase maize from the farmers. The called on the government to increase the price for a bag of maize to retail at Ksh 3,500 to avoid losses. 14-10-2014. PHOTOS BY: KEVIN TUNOI

 

Maize farmers in North Rift are a worried lot as grain buyer the National Cereals and Produce Board’s (NCPB) depots remain closed.

Producer prices are on a free fall, with farmers warning they could face millions of shillings in losses if the State does not intervene.

The farmers, through their representatives, say the problem has been made worse by cartels importing maize from Uganda. The brokers are allegedly stocking imported maize in Western and North Rift regions awaiting to sell it to NCPB when the depots are opened.

Farmers in North Rift, the country’s grain basket, claim the same cartels are dumping cheap imports into the market to influence local prices. This way, they end up buying most of the produce. The plan is to stock most of the maize and later sell it to NCPB at a profit.

Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) Director Kipkorir Menjo, Uasin Gishu County Executive Committee (CEC) member for Agriculture Cyril Cheruiyot and Kenya National Farmers Federation (KENAFF) chairman for Uasin Gishu Musa Barno confirm that some businessmen have stocked imported maize.

“If genuine farmers are not protected, the traders are likely to wipe out the allocated funds that have been set for the purchase of this season’s harvest at one go,” said Menjo. Dr Cheruiyot said he is aware that some traders have bought maize from neighbouring countries including Tanzania and Uganda and are anticipating the government will declare good prices so that ‘they can make a kill’.

“The government through NCPB stabilises maize prices and also builds strategic food reserves. The traders are speculating expecting to make a kill if normal prices are offered and that is why they have stocked,” added Cheruiyot. The CEC termed the current situation in the region as ‘pathetic’ expressing fear that if genuine farmers are not protected, most of them may not be able to go back to farming next season or repay loans they had invested in farming.

Unscrupulous traders

He said prices have dropped with a bag of maize selling at between Sh1,000 and Sh1,200 to middlemen from as high as Sh3,000. “That is why we have called a farmers’ meeting through cooperative societies for deliberations that will ensure genuine farmers are given priority once NCPB depots are opened. We are also urging the government to open the stores and declare prices,” said Cheruiyot after a meeting in Eldoret.

He noted that funds allocated by the government for purchase of maize may not be adequate for the expected harvests.  “The meeting recommended that NCPB opens small buying centres in rural areas away from formal established depots in Ziwa, Mois Bridge, Eldoret, Turbo and Kipkabus,” said Cheruiyot.

The CEC added: “Members of cooperatives societies are also farmers who will assist in identifying real maize producers through receipts of inputs including fertilisers they bought from the societies and through NCPB so that genuine farmers access the funds.”

Cheruiyot said the meeting further resolved to have committees picked by grassroots farmers who will identify genuine farmers adding that recommendations will be handed to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei.

Menjo said: “The government should use mechanisms at its disposal to identify imported maize from locally produced to safeguard farmers from unscrupulous traders”. Menjo has already taken a petition to Parliament, which is currently before Agriculture Committee. It seeks to have a supplementary budget to increase allocations to NCPB to enable it purchase farmers’ produce.

“The petition was read by House Speaker on Tuesday and passed to the agriculture committee. Farmers are seeking allocation of Sh16 billion to the sector. They want Sh3 billion be allocated each to Kenya Seed Company (KSC) and Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC),” said the KFA director.

He said the petition seeks an additional Sh7.3 billion on top of the initial Sh2.7 billion the government had allocated to NCPB to make a total of Sh10 billion towards the purchase of this year’s maize harvests. Barno said although the market is liberalised, the government should give priority to local farmers and set maize producer price at Sh3,000 per 90 kg bag to make the sector profitable.

Buy stocks

“NCPB stores still have stocks dating back to 2012. We urge the government to clear the stores by distributing strategic grain reserves (SGRs) to regions with food shortages. This will create room for replenishment with current harvests,” said Barno. Representatives of maize farmers met in Eldoret recently and called for a supplementary budget that will facilitate increased funding to NCPB to enable it promptly buy stocks from farmers in the current harvest season.

The representatives who included Menjo, Willy Grey Maina, Moira Chepkok and Tom Murgor among others expressed concern that most farmers have harvested the crop but they cannot sell it to NCPB because the depots are still closed.

Maina said the issue of underfunding is becoming recurrent over the years despite farmers raising concerns every harvest season. “At this time of the year when maize farmers are harvesting, NCPB ought to have been allocated enough funds to have their stores opened so that they can accept produce from farmers,” said Maina. Chepkok said continued closure of NCPB depots would lead to post harvest wastage since most farmers lack proper storage for the harvest.

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