Why North Rift maize farmers are shunning cereals board

Drying maize

Workers dry maize by the roadside in Elburgon on October 18, 2021.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group 

What you need to know:

  • Farmers lament that the NCBP takes too long to pay besides offering low prices.
  • They’re angered by board’s proposed Sh1,305 per 50kg bag for this season harvest.

Farmers in the North Rift have shunned the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), citing low prices, complicating the agency’s target of buying three million bags of maize to restock the depleted emergency reserves.

The farmers are angered by NCPB’s proposed price of Sh1,305 per 50kg bag and lament that the board takes too long to pay. Although millers are paying Sh2,400 per 90kg, which, on average, would mean Sh26 a kilo, like NCPB, farmers are opting to sell to millers and traders because of prompt payment.

A farmers’ lobby insists NCPB should not pay less than Sh3, 000 for a 90kg bag.

The board now faces stiff competition from millers and traders, who buy at farm-gate rates and offer prompt payments.

The impending shortage caused by erratic climate and disease outbreaks has intensified the cut-throat competition. 

NCPB corporate affairs manager Titus Maiyo yesterday admitted that they had yet to receive maize from farmers a week after buying centres were opened countrywide for this season’s harvest.

“We urge farmers to take advantage of our prompt payment to deliver their crop to our buying centres countrywide,” he pleaded.

Decline in maize yield

But there are fears the board might not achieve its emergency stock target because of a decline in maize yield as a result of erratic climatic conditions, disease outbreaks and post-harvest losses caused by downpours during the harvest period.

NCPB board of directors chairman Mutea Iringo says the country has exhausted its national food emergency stocks.

“The National Food Reserve stocks currently stand at zero, and there’s need, therefore, for immediate building up of requisite stocks to address the precarious National food and nutrition security status,” he said when he appeared before the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture late last month.

He said the build-up would be achieved competitively through the Warehouse Receipting System and the NCPB was expected to play a critical role in realising the emergency stocks.

The NCPB took over the role of stocking emergency food reserves from the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) as part of reforms by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya last year.

The board seeks Sh10.3 billion to buy emergency food stocks. It plans to buy three million bags of maize at Sh7.56 billion and 50,000 bags of beans at Sh405 million.

Mr Iringo said they plan to buy 100,000 bags of 50kg rice at Sh600 million, 30,000 bags of green grams at Sh270 million and 20,000 bags of 25kg powdered milk at Sh340 million.

Increased production cost

It’s seeking market for 700,000 bags of maize worth Sh1.2 billion to raise capital to buy this season’s crop. The board is selling the produce at Sh1,715 per 50kg bag as it struggles to recover Sh12.7 billion debts by government ministries and agencies.

“We are offloading the produce to raise capital and create space in readiness to buy this season’s crop,” Mr Maiyo said.

Kenya Farmers Association director Kipkorir Menjo said that because there are no imports, prices are likely to rise.

He asked the NCPB not to offer less than Sh3,000 per 90kg bag.

“What the NCPB is offering is too low compared to increased production cost and will reverse the gains made in attaining food security. 

“Agriculture is a pillar of the Big Four Agenda and the current producer prices will force most farmers to scale down their production,” he said.

Farmers want the government to subsidise fertiliser prices and implement policies that will enable farmers to compete favourably under the East African Community (EAC) common market protocol.

“There’s no way Kenya maize farmers will compete with their counterparts from EAC member states when fertiliser prices have increased from Sh3,000 to Sh4,500 per 50kg, while there are heavy taxes on imported farm implements and machinery,” Mr Menjo said.

Bumper harvest

Mr Thomas Korgoren, a maize and wheat grower from Moiben, urged the government to be in touch with farmers to factor in production costs. He wants the prices raised by 20 per cent.

“In Uasin Gishu alone, we have about five million bags. Countrywide, farmers have produced about 50 million bags compared to last year’s 35 million.

“Just give us better prices so that next year we do much better. We’ve recorded a bumper harvest, but the prices are demoralising,” Mr Korgoren.

“NCPB should review the prices as what millers are offering is higher,” Mr Kimutai Kolum, another farmer said, adding, taxes shouldn’t be imposed on farm input and machinery to ensure farming is mechanised.

Millers have opened buying centres in Eldoret and are offering Sh2,300 to Sh2,400 per 90kg bag. They make payments on delivery while others buy the produce at farm-gate level in a rush to stockpile given the impending shortage.

“The attractive prices offered by millers and other traders is a relief for farmers who need the money for personal needs, including school fees, as well as investing in the next crop,” Mr Jackson Too from Moiben said.

And, in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, maize prices have increased from Sh2,200 to Sh2,400 per 90kg bag. In Kisumu, farmers are pocketing Sh2,700 per 90kg bag.