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Farmers contemplate abandoning maize as DP Ruto insists on diversification

Deputy president William Ruto (center) with Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui (left) and Sawela Lodges Managing Director Peter Gitau during the Nakuru Nakuru International investment conference at Naivasha in Nakuru county on November 30,2018. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

The Sh2,300 price for a 90kg bag of maize declared by the government has left North Rift farmers contemplating abandoning the country’s staple grain, a move that could further strain Kenya’s ability to feed herself.

Lack of subsidies, false promises by the national government and unscrupulous traders have all conspired to keep a stranglehold on farmers incur losses as a result of high production prices.

Agricultural players in the North Rift are now expressing fear of a possible food crisis as demoralised farmers contemplate quitting farming maize for other ventures.

Friday, small and large scale maize producers said the Sh2,300 offered per bag means the sector is no longer viable.

They warned that the recent implementation of the eight percent VAT on petroleum products will aggrevate the situation.

Ruth Kemboi, the Uasin Gishu Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kneff) acting chair, North Rift Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) Director Kipkorir Menjo and large scale farmer Kimutai Kolum told Saturday Standard in Eldoret that farmers are not happy with the manner the crisis in the maize sub-sector is being addressed.  

“We are dumbfounded. We have no answers or solutions for the woes afflicting the maize sector in the country. The issue has adversely affected the economic standing of farmers,”  Mrs Kemboi said.

She said farmers have less to celebrate this festive season.

No cheer

“It has been the norm for majority farmers to shop and reward their family members every harvest time.

“This will not be the case this year due to delays in paying farmers’ supplies and also poor producer prices endorsed by the Cabinet,” she said.

As the farmers cried foul in Eldoret, Deputy President William Ruto reiterated that maize farmers ought to look at other options. 

Speaking at the ongoing Nakuru International Investment Conference (NIICO, 2018) in Naivasha, Ruto told off politicians opposed to his diversification narrative, saying it is the way to go if the country is to increase its exports from the current nine per cent to 15.

“Diversification is key in the government’s national export development and promotion strategy. “People in other parts of the world are busy producing for export market. Here, we want to store maize,” he said in reference to attacks targeted at him by a section of Rift Valley leaders.

Ruto said there is a huge potential in food production, saying the government wants to increase potato production fivefold and also raise production of rice by 300 per cent.

The DP has been under attack in recent weeks over the maize crisis that has seen farmers fail to get decent returns from their produce.

But addressing the conference Friday, Ruto asked farmers to take advantage of the Kenya-China trade deal allowing agriculture produce in the Chinese market.

“The truth is that we must continue farming but in a way that we can generate gainful income,” he said.

But in the grain basket of the North Rift, farmers are looking at next year’s planting season with skepticism.

Jackson Kwambai, a large scale farmer in Uasin Gishu, said with good husbandry, a farmer spends Sh50,000 per acre without relying on subsidies.

This will produce an average of 35 90kg bags at the end of the season.

When the yield is low, he said, the profit margins per bag will narrow since much has been invested in production.

Planting season

Menjo said majority of the farmers lack resources to prepare their farms ahead of the next planting season. Needs like school fees will consume most of the farmers’ earnings.

“Most farmers might reduce their production acreage next season leading to a food crisis in the country.

“The State has delayed in releasing the Sh2.2 billion for farmers while the producer price of Sh2,300 is too inadequate for operations,” Menjo said.

He said millers are currently buying a 90kg bag at Sh 1,600 in Eldoret.  

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