Political leaders and farmers from the North Rift region have rejected the new maize prices announced by the government yesterday. The government announced it will buy maize being harvested now at Sh2,300 per 90kg bag, setting the stage for conflict with the farmers already suffering losses from the last season.
The announcement was made by the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund (SFRTF), which targets to buy 2.5 million bags of the produce from the 2018/2019 harvest. The chairman of the Fund Noah Wekesa said they have requested Sh5.7 billion from the government and will start buying maize once the funds are released.
“The purchase of the stocks will start through our contracted agent, the National Cereals Produce Board as soon as the funds are released by the National Treasury,” Dr Wekesa said during a press briefing at Teleposta Towers, Nairobi.
But politicians and maize growers said the new price can only buy a one 50kg bag.
Governors from North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb) said the prices are punitive and demanded that the government reviews them. They said a task force formed to look into the plight of maize farmers in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive was not consulted on the new prices. They added that their representatives in the team will relinquish their positions if SFRTR fails to review the prices.
Speaking during a Noreb summit meeting in Eldoret, the governors said the new prices for this season’s produce are too low as production costs are concerned, and thus an insult to grain growers.
“The Sh2,300 price announced by SFR is not what we agreed on as the maize task force. In our first meeting, we told the Fund the least they can buy maize from farmers is Sh2,500 considering the production parameters,” said Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, the Noreb’s chair.
Mr Mandago also criticised the Fund for saying it will buy two million bags of maize contrary to the budgeted four million bags.
He argued that farmers cannot make profits at Sh2,300 per bag considering the cost of production, saying SFRTR must review the prices. He added that if the prices are not reviewed, it will be pointless for the farmers to continue growing the crop from next year.
“Let us give farmers a reason to continue producing food as we target to make food security a reality as one of the Big Four agenda pillars,” said Mr Mandago.
“The new prices clearly indicate that some officials in the Ministry of Agriculture are taking the President’s directive lightly,” he added.
Trans-Nzoia Governor Patrick Khaemba reiterated there is need for the farmers to be protected if the government is serious about achieving food security.
The county bosses were accompanied by Governor Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet), Deputy Governor Peter Lotethiro (Turkana) and Nandi’s Yulita Cheruiyot.
Elsewhere, farmers through their representatives said the new price is too little for a 90kg bag.
“It is below average and we shall not accept it,” said Mr David Kibarenge, an executive member of the North Rift Cooperative Union. He called for a meeting of stakeholders to agree on better prices.
Moiben MP Silas Tiren also rejected the new prices, arguing that the cost of production at the farm level has gone up due to the 8 per cent VAT imposed on fuel as well as the agro-chemicals.
“This new price is a clear message that the government doesn’t care about the farmers. To produce a 90kg bag of maize, you will spend Sh2,300. Who did they consult? If we have to produce more maize, then we must support the farmers by offering them proper prices,” he said.
But the Fund defended its decision, saying it was arrived after wide consultations in the sector.
Among those consulted, Dr Wekesa said, are millers, cereals growers and the government through the National Treasury.
He said the country is not short of maize after last year’s bumper harvest, hence the new prices. He added that the price of the commodity had gone down in the region, and cited the dynamics brought about by the huge importation during the 2017 duty free window.
“We are also trying to balance the interest of the farmers against those of consumers. Raising the price to Sh3, 200 as was the case last year means that the retail price of maize flour will equally go up,” he said.
“Our desire is to protect our farmers by offering reasonable prices, but ensure the same is paid promptly.” He further revealed that the government has released Sh2.13 billion to pay to farmers owed for the produce delivered last year.