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Maize farmers setting the pace

OPINION
By Mbatau wa Ngai | September 10th 2019

Counties in the North Rift should support maize farmers’ proposal to set up three milling plants.

This is because such millers have the potential to benefit both the growers and consumers.

The caveat is that the entire value chain is managed with the professionalism not seen in the majority of farmers’ co-operative unions since the era of looting in the sub-sector in the 1980s and 90s.

The county bosses, supported by relevant State institutions, could also boost these co-operative societies by lending them part of the seed capital required and helping them borrow working capital. But, perhaps, the key help that counties should extend to societies is employing and holding to account professionals who will run the milling plants.

The devolved units should be under obligation to ensure their employees manage the entire value chain professionally even in the event this might require them to source top-level cadre from outside the region. Professionals from outside the country will shield farmers’ investments from political interference that has, often, been observed in regional-based institutions.

Indeed, the national and county governments would be doing the farmers and the country a favour if they work together to ensure the success of the proposed plants.

Consumer prices

This only leads to higher farm-gate prices but also lower consumer prices. Analysts opine that the lower and stable producer and consumer prices would be the fruit of the competition between the existing millers and the new ones at both ends of the value chain. The success of the farmers’ venture would send a strong message to milk producers to follow their example and establish dairy plants to process their milk.

Recent reports that milk processors have reduced the purchase price of a litre by over 40 per cent should be a wake-up call to dairy farmers that they are not likely to break the genteel poverty cycle unless they can control the entire value chain.

This recognition would encourage them to set up milk processing plants and marketing functions that would get their packaged products in super-market and kiosk shelves.

There is a reason to believe that lenders would be willing to extend a part of the cash required to set up such plants and fund the logistics.

Obviously, the farmers would be required to contribute the balance through their co-operative societies.

But what should not be lost in the excitement are the past failures of similar farmers’ initiatives due to personal interests and graft. Integrity is key.  

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