Seed fiasco that left Bura scheme members caught in debt

Bura Irrigation Scheme

Farmers in Bura irrigation scheme protest outside their storage facility after they received letters from Agriculture Finance Corporation (AFC) demanding them to pay a loan worth Sh67.5m. The farmers are listed in CRB and are now unable to access credit to improve productivity on their farms.

Photo credit: Laban Walloga | Nation Media Group

For hundreds of local farmers at the Bura Irrigation Scheme in Tana River County, farming is something they yearn for rather than do.

Caught in the tight grip of credit reference bureaus, they are unable to access credit and improve productivity on their farms.

Now, all they do is wallow in nostalgia for the good old days when harvests from cotton, maize, watermelons and rice fetched them good money that sustained their livelihoods.

“All my children were in private schools. I used to make money from maize farming until Kenya Seed did the unthinkable to us. That was the genesis of our poverty,” says Victor Imbalia.

He is one of those who took a loan from the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) to invest in large-scale maize production.

Kenya Seed gave them seeds with the promise that they would get better yields. Hundreds of farmers took loans and placed their trust in the seed provider.

“We got into farming with very high expectations and were sure that in three months, we would be on another level financially,” he says.

However, the contrary happened. The seeds did not yield as expected, and farmers incurred losses. From a one-acre farm where they expected 50 90kg bags, the lucky ones only harvested five bags.

“It was then that we were informed that the seed was not tested in the laboratories in Nairobi before it was brought to us, instead we were used to test the seed,” he says.

The farmers approached Kenya Seed with their meagre harvests for certification, only to be informed that the product did not qualify for seeds. They protested and were presented with fresh seeds of a different variety. By then, most farmers had exhausted their loans and could not get back to the farm. A few gave it a second shot, and the yields were equally disappointing, leaving farmers with huge debts.

John Karanja, a farmer at the scheme for 37 years, noted that the failure threw more than 300 farmers out of farming.

“All of them became incapacitated, especially when AFC started sending letters and making calls. Some even abandoned the farms and ran away,” he recounts.

Some of the farmers, he said, suffered depression and drowned their sorrows in traditional liquor.

“Indigenous farmers now rent their farms to the guest farmers for Sh5,000, and work on the same farms as labourers for Sh300 a day.”

AFC board chairman Franklin Bett noted that some farmers had their debts waived following a presidential order.

“The order was meant for the poorest of farmers that we found incapable of paying their loans,” he said.

He reiterated that the financier will not waive any debts and has advised the government against it, as it puts them in conflict with partners and donor organisations that provide the funds.

Ishmael Kodobo, the chairman of the county assembly’s trade committee, said that efforts to get the county government to pay the loans for the farmers have been futile.

County Finance executive Matthew Babwoya urged the farmers to take advantage of the Sh100 million Inuka Fund that will start operating soon.

Kenya Seed management in the county had not responded to our queries by the time of going to press.