National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has blamed cartels for the skyrocketing food prices and urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to address the matter urgently.
Mr Muturi said food continued to be expensive because of unscrupulous people holding the country at ransom. "Kenya has become a cartel economy. Cartels are licensed to exclusively import all the fertiliser, food and farm inputs. The Kenyan farmer is neglected intentionally so that the profiteers can make their kill, while Kenyans languish in poverty and hopelessness," he said.
"Maize, Kenya's staple, is also being imported at high cost. These cartels are also in dairy, sugar, nuts and other agriculture sectors. There is a lot of legislation supposed to protect the farmers, but they only protect the cartels," he added.
Muturi, who was endorsed by the Democratic Party (DP) to run for president, wondered why food from neighbouring countries was cheaper than that produced locally.
"Why is maize from Uganda cheaper? Why are potatoes from Tanzania cheaper? Why do we get eggs from Uganda? Fertiliser price is a scam by cartels and government officers; it’s Sh1,200 in Uganda and Sh5,700 in Kenya. We have unnecessarily expensive inputs. The government needs to solve this problem and solve it now," said Muturi on the sidelines of the DP National Delegates Congress at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on Sunday.
"These cartels are controlled from the Agriculture ministry. The prices are fixed before the products are imported," he claimed.
The Speaker said it was interesting that Kenyans were allowed to import cars from Japan, but farmers were not allowed to import fertiliser for personal use. "It is because the latter is the business of cartels that are bent on making billions of shillings from the masses," he said.
Muturi said Kenyan farmers import livestock feeds from Uganda, where the prices are lower. "Unemployment is high, inflation is increasing, businesses are failing, our debt levels for the individual and the country are rising; President Kenyatta must act now to save Kenyans from the agony. People must be given dignity of being able to put food on their table. It is not a request, it is a demand," he said.
The Speaker regretted that vegetables like tomatoes had fallen into the luxury category for those living on less than a dollar a day. "A packet of Unga is no longer affordable and many families are reliant on the unga-pima. Where did we go wrong as a country? What is the government doing," he said.
Muturi promised that if DP takes power they will address the matter.
"We hear there are plans to subsidise the food prices but this is not the way to go. Just empower the farmers and Kenyans and they will emerge from the worst crisis of good prices," he said.
He said agriculture contributed about 60 per cent of the GDP, and employed about 80 per cent of the workforce, hence the need to grow the sector to steer the country's economy. "We hear there are plans to subsidise the food prices, but this is not the way to go. Just empower the farmers and Kenyans," said Muturi.
The first step to increasing agricultural yield, the Speaker said, is to move away from rain fed agriculture to a stable irrigation system.
"First we must reduce post production loss. We lose on average 30 per cent of our farm produce after harvest. We need to urgently address the issue of storage to ensure we safely and hygienically store our produce by employing new technology in our storage facilities, including increasing our cold storage capacity," he said.
He asked government to urgently address the exorbitant price of farm inputs.
"Kenyan produce has become increasingly uncompetitive as it is priced too high due to the high cost of inputs and we must encourage the production of farm inputs locally and zero rate taxation on those that are imported," he said.