Farmers, middlemen accused of hoarding as maize prices jump

Maize Farmers

Workers weigh and sort bags of dry maize by the roadside in Elburgon town, Nakuru County. Many farmers have expressed uncertainty over their future in maize production.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

As maize flour prices escalate after some millers exhausted their stocks, farmers in the North Rift region, the country’s grain basket, are hoarding the produce owing to the anticipated shortage.

Some farmers are stockpiling the produce in anticipation of increased prices due to impending shortage of the stable with the price of a 2-kilogramme packet of flour rising from Sh80 to Sh102 in most retail outlets.

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has reviewed its prices for a second time in a month, offering Sh3,000 up from Sh2,700 for a 90-kilogramme bag of maize in a bid to lure farmers.

But millers have hiked their prices to Sh3,150 per bag, even as the government warned that the current stocks can only last for four months.

According to Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga, most of the maize is imported from Tanzania and Uganda after production of the staple declined by 4.3 per cent from 44 million bags in 2019 to 42.1 million bags last season. “We are tracking production and consumption of this critical commodity. Currently, imports are flowing from the  Tanzania and Uganda,” said Prof Boga.

A bag of wheat is selling at Sh3,400 up from Sh3,100, but many farmers are also hoarding the grain.

“Food shortage is unavoidable due to the low yields last season caused by erratic climatic conditions, attacks by pests and rotting due to heavy rains during harvesting,” said Jackson Kosgey from Moiben, Uasin Gishu.

NCPB managing director Joseph Kimote admitted slow delivery of the produce by farmers, but said they anticipate this will pick up in the coming weeks.

“We expect to receive more maize as festive season ends and normal business operations resumes,” said Mr Kimote, noting the new prices will enable farmers to get value for the maize delivered to the board.

Agriculture experts and millers have warned of a rise in maize prices due to depreciating stocks in the market, spelling doom to consumers who have to dig deep into their pockets to buy the staple.

According to experts, cartels who have infiltrated the supply chain after the sub-sector was liberalised are suspected to be buying and hoarding the staple to cause artificial shortage and trigger price increases.

“We are staring at a looming crisis in the next six months after most farmers sold their grain at throw away prices to millers and middlemen after the government expressed unwillingness to buy the produce,” said Mr Ezekiel Kosgei, an Eldoret-based private land economist.

Middlemen purchased the crop during the harvest season at between Sh1,500 and Sh1,800 per bag and stored the grain in anticipation of a shortage.

“The uncertainty in the supply of maize affects the business environment leading to speculation, hoarding and shortages, which lead to price increases,” said Kipng’etich Mutai, the Grain Belt Millers Association chairman.