Dear Linturi, do the noble thing and quit

Mithika Linturi
Dennis Onsongo| NMG
Photo credit: File

The nation has in the past few weeks been treated to revolting scenes as senior government officials trade accusations on the fake fertiliser scandal.

The tragicomedy of denials has played out in the highest boardrooms of the land, with none other than the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Mithika Linturi, claiming variously that the scam only lived in the vivid imaginations of compromised journalists.

He has, thankfully, been put to his place by science, as tests conducted by agencies of the very government he works for, have shown that the fertiliser in question was substandard and, therefore, counterfeit.

Mr Linturi does not appear to be taking this matter seriously. Instead, he is engaging in an absurd blame-shifting and name-calling.

Yet the matter at hand touches on a very important subject of our common existence.

So important is agriculture to this country that it formed the bedrock of President William Ruto’s election campaign manifesto. Indeed, affordable, quality fertiliser was at the centre of Kenya Kwanza’s agricultural reforms agenda, and President Ruto has himself been at the forefront of that revolution.

Journalists, whom the minister has called ‘crooks’, have travelled the length and breadth of this great nation to bring to sharp focus the criminal entreprise that is robbing our farmers of their livelihoods.

In the bread basket of the Rift Valley, farmers have complained of reduced harvests because they have been conned into buying what is essentially chalk, passed off as fertiliser. And in Nakuru, just the other day, police officers seized what they termed fake seeds packaged for distribution to unsuspecting farmers.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg and worrying. How long has this criminal entreprise conned hardworking farmers? What damage has it wrought on their farms and livelihoods? It is the height of impunity when cartels target the very bedrock of our economy, but the danger is even bigger when we let those cartels get away with it.

Seven out of every 10 Kenyans rely on subsistence farming to put food on the table, and agriculture accounts for more than a quarter of our Gross Domestic Product. Playing dirty tricks on the sector, therefore, is akin to inviting us to play Russian Roulette. It can only end in disaster.

And we are not producing enough anyway. Our farms are shrinking, the rain erratic, and the soils simply tired. That is why, for instance, various estimates show that in the last financial year alone, we faced a deficit of about five million bags of our maize staple.

Mr Linturi must come to his senses and realise that this is not just about fertiliser or seeds or other inputs. The cries he is hearing out there, and which he is choosing to ignore, are about our lives and livelihoods.

Far too long we have allowed a lawless brigade to run amok in the agriculture sector. Farmers are held captive by this scandalous thieving cabal whose temerity is fuelled by the fact that little, if anything, is ever done to punish them.

Food security is a national security matter. After all, a hungry man is an angry man, and many a democracy have been brought down by the unpredictability of empty stomachs.

Our gallant farmers deserve better. They have been neglected, used and abused for too long. Agriculture extension services are moribund, and in the wake of climate change, many farmers do not even know when to plant crops.

It can’t be that hard to ensure those people who feed this nation are supported, encouraged, protected and promoted.

In the spirit of collective responsibility, the Cabinet should demand more of the minister. Insulting journalists and other whistleblowers is, in our view, the height of arrogance or kiburi that Kenya Kwanza vowed to extinguish from public life. It is akin to insulting our collective intelligence.

If he were a man of honour, Mr Linturi would have faced the nation and apologised for this scandal. He would have taken responsibility for it, and vowed to crush the cartels sabotaging the President’s agenda and putting the stability of this nation at risk by robbing farmers in broad daylight.

For not doing that, for not stopping this criminal entreprise in its tracks and returning sanity to our farms, Mr Linturi should do the honourable thing and resign or President Ruto save the country further embarrassment and just fire this minister. It is the least he can do.