Maize farmers in the Rift Valley are faced with tough balancing act selling the produce to middlemen who make prompt payment and waiting for the government to announce the price following the projected bumper harvest.
Middlemen have flocked markets in the North Rift region, the country’s food basket, offering Sh5,200 per a 90-kilogramme bag of maize as farmers embark on harvesting the crop commence with the yield projected to increase from 32 million bags to 44 million bags this season following the distribution of subsidised fertiliser and favourable climatic condition.
But the Ministry of Agriculture has cautioned the farmers against selling the produce at exploitive prices with Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi has disclosed plans by the government to purchase one million bags of maize for the National Food Reserve as it moves to bolster its emergency food stock following the projected bumper harvest.
“We are consulting with the national treasury to avail funds and we shall soon announce prices to buy maize from farmers,” said Mr Linturi when he inspected driers at Kenya Seed Company in Kitale Trans Nzoia County.
He said the government was keen to buy the stable through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) at attractive prices to enable them earn profit from the investment.
“The Warehouse Receipt System has been activated to enable farmers to store their crop to cushion against post-harvest losses,” said Mr Linturi.
But the farmers are faced with tough balancing act, selling the produce to middlemen at throwaway prices or wait for the government to announce the price.
“A bird at hand is worth two in the bush and this has driven some of the farmers faced with financial challenges like school fees for their children and demands for basic needs to sell their produce at throwaway prices,” said John Kirui from Chepkumia in Nandi County.
Leaders from maize-growing zones have cautioned farmers against offloading produce at throwaway prices and instead wait for government to purchase the crop at more attractive prices.
“We have put in place proper mechanisms to ensure that middlemen do not exploit our farmers by offering them low prices. It is our wish that farmers take advantage of drying facilities to avoid post-harvest losses and sell the produce at attractive prices that will enable them to earn profit,” said George Natembeya, Trans Nzoia Governor.
He disclosed plans by his administration to hire 160 agriculture extension officers to sensitize farmers on modern crop production and animal husbandry techniques and transform agriculture into profitable investment.
Trans Nzoia County realised an estimated 5.3 million bags of maize last season while it consumes about 2 million bags with an estimated 3.3 million being released to the market.
According to Agriculture County Executive member for Agriculture Phanice Khatundi the yield is expected to increase to 5.6 million bags as the country anticipates bumper yield.
She decried exploitation of farmers by middlemen who have flocked into the area to purchase the produce at throwaway prices amid fears of that there will be importation of the grain.
“The farmers need to be protected from exploitation by middlemen who offer them low prices,” said Ms Katundi.
Uasin Gishu County is projected to harvest about 4.5 million bags of maize this season out of which more than 2.5 million bags will be released to the market.
“Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia counties are to harvest over 10 million bags of maize and the government need to hasten the process of purchasing the crop at attractive prices” said Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers’ Association (KFA) director.
Maize prices have dropped from Sh6,400 to Sh4,800 following the harvest of the produce in South Rift and parts of Western Kenya region.
Kenya’s maize production has fluctuated in the past eight years, with its highest being in 2018 when it produced 44.6 million bags and the lowest in 2017 when country only produced 35.4 million bags of the staple food.
The country churned out 40.7 million bags in 2013; 39 million in 2014; 42.5 million in 2015, 37.8 million in 2016, and 39.8 million in 2019, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.