Moses Kuria under siege as lawmakers fight maize importation

Moses Kuria

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

MPs from President William Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard and those from Western, both maize growing areas, yesterday trained their guns on Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, with David Pkosing threatening to collect signatures to impeach him.

This comes as President Ruto’s administration faces a tough balancing act between importing 10 million bags of genetically modified maize to lower the cost of flour and protecting local farmers.

Whereas the importation of the staple is expected to lower the cost of living at household level, the move will deal a major blow to maize farmers as it will result in a drastic drop in prices.

“If Moses Kuria continues like this, we will impeach him. We will collect signatures from tomorrow, and he will be the first CS to go home in this government if he does not listen to the farmers. He should talk like a minister and respect life and not joke with death,” said Mr Pkosing, the MP for Pokot South. 

In the press statement, the MPs demanded that the government freeze the importation of maize into the country until April next year when there is a clear deficit.

The more than 10 legislators, who issued a statement at Parliament buildings, termed the importation a deliberate move to cripple the agriculture sector and undermine the intention of Guaranteed Minimum Return (GMR) scheme.

“It seems there is a deliberate move to continue killing maize farming in the country as was seen in the previous regime where even the sugar sector and other farming sectors were killed. It seems that cartels are now back in business and this time round, they appear more aggressive and ruthless,” said the lawmakers in a statement read by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei. 

Other lawmakers who attended the briefing were Trans Nzoia Senator Allan Chesang, MPs Didmus Barasa (Kimilili), Phyllis Bartoo (Moiben), Timothy Toroitich (Marakwet West), Julius Rutto (Kesses), Maryanne Kitany (Aldai), Josses Lelmengit (Emgwen), Janet Sitienei (Turbo), Abraham Kirwa (Mosop) and Woman Reps Cynthia Muge (Nandi), Caroline Ngelechei (Elgeyo-Marakwet) and Lilian Siyoi (Trans Nzoia).

The MPs also took issue with the docking of ships loaded with maize at the Port of Mombasa, noting that there was no legal backing for entry of the commodity into the country.

“As members of Parliament from maize producing regions, we seek to know the reason why ships are already docking in Mombasa Port without the laid down legal procedures in place,” they said.

But National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa defended Mr Kuria, saying the importation of the commodity was a necessity due to the country’s shortage.

“The average maize production is 30 million bags. Our consumption is at 40 million bags. With this, there will definitely be a shortage that has to be bridged. We are asking farmers to release their maize since we know there are some that are hoarding their maize. If you continue hoarding, you will force importation to check in and prices to go down,” said Mr Ichung’wa. 

However, Kwanza MP Ferdinand Wanyonyi protested, saying the importation should instead be stopped to buy all that is in the farmers’ hands.

In its manifesto, Kenya Kwanza pledged to ensure farming is profitable and income is predictable through implementation of such schemes like the GMR and price stabilisation.

By opening up the importation of maize, some leaders and farmers from maize-growing zones view the alliance as reneging on its pre-election promises.

The planned importation of GM maize has put the Kenya Kwanza administration on a collision course with farmers who argue that it will destabilise the food production chain by lowering prices and may expose Kenyans to health risks. 

“We fail to understand the rationale behind importation of such huge quantities of maize when harvesting of the grain, which is enough to feed the country, is ongoing in many parts of the North Rift region,” said Mr David Kiberenge, a North Rift Co-operative Union official during a farmers’ crisis meeting in Eldoret town.

“We are unhappy with the decision made by the government without consulting farmers. We want to ask the state to first suspend importation so that they buy our produce, considering the high cost of production this season” said Mr John Sawe, a small-scale farmer from Uasin Gishu County.

Mr Kipkorir Menjo, a Kenya Farmers Association official, said: “We are perturbed over the government’s hurried plans to import yet our local produce has not been exhausted. We expected the government to first allow the country to exhaust the local produce first before they think of importation.”

Kenya Kwanza had pledged to revamp the agriculture sector and transform two million poor farmers from food deficit to surplus producers through input finance and intensive agricultural extension support, with a minimum productivity target of Sh50,000 in revenue per acre.

The country produces an average of 30-40 million bags annually, with the deficit of about 10 million bags being sourced from the regional markets.

Maize production in 2020 stood at 42.1 million bags, down from 44 million in 2019. The country’s maize flour production over the past five years has averaged 2.8 million tonnes annually.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, over the past five years, Kenya has imported an average of 295,092 tonnes of maize annually.

The maize prices have hit a record Sh5,300 per 90 kilogramme bag, amid scarcity that has pushed up maize flour prices.

According to President Ruto, providing certified seeds and fertiliser will see farmers increase productivity and the deficit.

The Head of State promised to cut the cost of living by increasing food production, while cushion farmers against high cost of inputs and assuring them of markets for their produce.

“The high cost of living in Kenya can only be resolved by raising agricultural productivity. This will increase farmers’ earnings per acre and an excess product in the market will lead to an immediate impact on the pricing to the consumer,” President Ruto said.

The farmers are now demanded a meeting with Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi and local elected MPs over the stalemate and other issues in the sector.

Yesterday, some MPs continued to voice their opposition to importation of GM maize due to its safety and price implications.

Marakwet West MP Timothy Kipchumba and his Kesses counterpart Julius Ruto said the importation will adversely affect farmers in the country’s grain basket.

“Most leaders from the North and South Rift are opposed to the move. We want to ask the government to suspend this decision until we have exhausted farmers’ produce,” said the MPs.

Mr Kipchumba also said the country lacked a legal framework to guarantee the safety of GMOs to the consumers and the environment.

“The GM crops are controversial, so we expected the government to sponsor a Bill before Parliament to allow MPs to debate this issue. We also don’t have a legal framework on the labelling of GM and non-GM food like the United States to allow consumers to make informed choices,” said the MP.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga had earlier said GM foods will have adverse effects on people’s health and destroy the ecosystem.

He termed the move to lift the ban on GMOs a betrayal to the country for the benefit of foreign nations.