Fertiliser scandal: Azimio wants Linturi and Miano sacked

 Cabinet Secretaries Mithika Linturi and Rebecca Miano. [File, Standard]

Farmers have been put between a rock and a hard place following allegations of bogus fertiliser distributed across the country.

And the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition has demanded the dismissal of two Cabinet Secretaries – Mithika Linturi (Agriculture and Livestock) and Rebecca Miano (Trade and Industrialisation).

Yesterday, the coalition accused the CSs of perpetuating economic sabotage by allowing repeated instances of fake fertiliser and seed scandals.

In a hard-hitting statement, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi also demanded the resignation of top officials at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to pave the way for investigations.

“Right in the middle of the planting season, the sector is awash with one scam after another, ranging from availability to pricing to quality of farm inputs, particularly seeds and fertilisers,” said Wandayi, who alleged that the apparent economic sabotage was "planned, coordinated and enabled by people in government through acts of commission or omission."

"The government has failed to supply fertilizers to farmers. In some places, the fertilizer is not there at all while in others, farmers are being provided with plant poison for fertilisers," he added.

During a sitting of the National Assembly Agriculture and Livestock committee on Wednesday, Kebs Managing Director Esther Ngari revealed that a fertiliser by the name GPC Plus Organics, packaged in 25-kilo bags and which was being distributed to NCPB outlets by a company known as SBL-Innovate Manufacturers Limited, was substandard and had not been certified by Kebs.

Ms Ngari submitted that after testing 59 sample bags sourced from various NCPB outlets, they had arrived at the conclusion that the fertiliser was not of the organic nature the company had been certified to supply.

The bags were obtained from NCPB outlets in Elburgon (68), Kipkaren Saliet (31) and Ziwa (45), among others. 

“The fertiliser had high levels of PH, is dolomite in nature as it is composed of calcium, magnesium and carbonate whose purpose is to only act as a soil conditioner yet the required fertiliser in the Kenyan soil is organic fertiliser that is required to add nutrients and sustain growth,” said Ngari.

She averred, “The product being distributed is not certified by Kebs. The product that Kebs initially certified is different from what has been seized… and condemned as substandard and thus not suitable for sale,” Ngari told the National Assembly’s Agriculture Committee.

In a public notice, Kebs singled out one fertiliser brand as substandard, even as the institution urged the public to report “instances of suspected substandard product”.

“If you happen to come across a product that does not meet the required standards, notify us immediately. Your attentiveness is crucial in safeguarding the well-being of our agricultural community,” said Kebs, even as it assured that the government’s approved subsidised fertiliser met all safety and quality standards.

But Azimio is unconvinced that Kebs is not culpable in the scandal because the condemned fertiliser bore Kebs’ seals of quality “that have been in the market for a year”.

“Kebs also clearly failed in its role of policing the market for quality of products. Our experience as a country has been that whenever scams follow scams, whenever impunity reigns in critical sectors with no action being taken as is the case today, it means it is authorized from the top echelons of government,” added Wandayi.

The Ugunja MP highlighted recent seizure of 700 bags of fake fertilisers in Kakamega by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and claimed that the NCPB has been supplying farmers with “fake fertilisers since 2003”.

However, SBL has dismissed the accusations and threatened to sue the Kebs for what it terms as spreading falsehoods, accusing it of trying to “create a reality which is not based on truth”.

In a press conference in Nairobi, SBL Chief Executive Officer Joe Kariuki said Kebs had certified them to supply GPC fertilisers on January 28, 2023.

“It was wrong for a government agency and more so the CEO Esther Ngari to give a false statement to Parliament and members of the public,” he said.

Kariuki questioned the timing of the accusations – right before the planting season when his company is set to import an additional 6 million bags of fertiliser- and accused the quality assurance agency of being dragged into a war to stop local natural-based non-chemical fertilisers.

“In the last two years, we have gained the trust and dedication and loyalty of 100,000 Kenya farmers across thirty counties farming thousands of acres. This is the future of environmentally safe farming. This is what the competition wants to be stopped,” claimed the CEO.

He added, “We are shocked to hear that KEBS has not certified and approved GPC fertilizers, that GPC fertilizers are fake and lack the recommended nutrient level and that GPC fertilizers are part of the Government fertilizer subsidy program. The accusations are false and libelous.” 

The Tigania West MP John Mutunga-led committee had been told that Kebs had already written to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) seeking the arrest and charge of SBL-innovate Manufacturers Limited owners.

The company, parliament was told had ignored the directive to only import organic fertilizer brand Bl -GPC original and proceeded to improperly use the standardisation mark by bringing in "fake" fertiliser.

SBL-innovate Manufacturers Limited had been given the greenlight to import BL-GPC original fertiliser but imported GPC plus Organics Fertilisr.

Kebs further accused the company of displaying the quality mark on a product that had not undergone the mandatory certification process as stipulated by Standards act and governed by the applicable standards.

The committee however sought to know why the institution had taken its time before commencing investigations and carrying out tests into the fake fertiliser.

Ngari explained  that  after SBL -innovate Manufacturers Limited was given a standardisation mark to import fertiliser in January 2022, it denied Kebs access into their stores and those of NPCB.

“We had challenges getting the samples as they were only found in the NCPB stores in the country. What this company did is a contravention of the standards Act and amounts to fraud,” Ngari further stated.

Chairman Mutunga, while emphasizing the culpability of the company, castigated it for potentially exposing Kenyans to health hazards.

The committee will summon the Ministry of Agriculture and specifically the state department for crops and the NCPB as to explain how the fertiliser was given a clean bill of health and stocked in their stores.

Embu Woman Rep Pamela Njoki demanded to know how the farmers adversely affected after purchasing the  fertiliser had been compensated.

Soy MP David Kiplagat regrected that some of the fertiliser may have already been used by farmers for planting and wondered how long it has been in circulation.
Wandayi said: “Kebs also clearly failed in its role of policing the market for quality of products. Our experience as a country has been that whenever scams follow scams, whenever impunity reigns in critical sectors with no action being taken as is the case today, it means it is authorized from the top echelons of government.” 

“In the current situation, the entire government seems helpless, maybe deliberately so. All that the President has offered in recent days is that those behind the fake seeds and fertilisers will face the music they deserve and that they will be dealt with firmly, effectively and conclusively - just high-sounding words; empty talk on a matter of serious national security.”

He termed the alleged scam “economic sabotage on a grand scale”, highlighting the Sh500 billion Kenya spends annually on food imports owing to production deficits.

“Government’s own data shows that our expenditure on food imports jumped by nearly Sh100 billion in the 12 months to September 2023. In that period, our traders spent Sh338.96 billion to import food and beverages from abroad, compared with Sh239.98 billion in a similar period in the prior year. In other words, our expenditure on food imports has grown under the Kenya Kwanza administration despite all the talk and rhetoric about making Kenya food secure,” stated Wandayi.

“Our expenditure on fertilizer subsidy is money gone to waste if that same fertilizer is being hijacked by cartels, mixed with stones and all sorts of plant poison and sold expensively to farmers while the government watches. Kenyans will recall that in November 2023, President Ruto approved a supplementary Budget of Sh8. 25 billion, for the fertilizer subsidy. That is what is being neutralized now through fraud.”

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