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What about us? North Rift farmers to Uhuru

BARNABAS BIIBy BARNABAS BII
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ONYANGO K’ONYANGOBy ONYANGO K’ONYANGO
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Grain farmers in the North Rift region, the country’s food basket, have faulted President Uhuru Kenyatta for ignoring them in the recent raft of reforms aimed at jumpstarting the agricultural sector.

The maize and wheat farmers complained that the government has neglected the struggling sector as they demanded implementation of policies that will enable them to break even and earn profits.

“It was our expectation that the President would announce policy changes that will guarantee steady market for our produce and access to affordable farm-inputs, unfair competition from cartels among other myriad issues facing the sector,” Jackson Kosgei, a maize farmer from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County said.

Mr Kenyatta on Tuesday announced several agricultural reforms including introduction of a 16 percent VAT on milk imports from outside the East African Community and ordering the Competition Authority of Kenya to smash cartels in the tea sector.

He also directed Treasury to give New KCC Sh500 million to purchase milk from dairy farmers and convert it to powder.

However, not much was said about grain farmers who have faced troubles such as increased competition from cheap imports, fertiliser shortages, inadequate supply of seeds and unscrupulous middlemen.

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The growers are now demanding the tabling of a report by a taskforce formed last year to investigate the crisis facing the maize sector.

“The reforms announced by President Kenyatta should have coincided with the tabling of the taskforce report since it provides solutions to market and price problems bedevilling the agriculture sector,” said Paul Kemboi from Saos, Nandi County.

Cereal farmers also took issue with what they said was the declining trend of budget allocations to the sector.

Some of them are hoarding their maize produce due to shortage of the grain in the market as the government plans to slash budget allocation to the sector in the 2019/2020 financial year to Sh59.1 billion and freeze funding to strategic grains reserve and fertiliser subsidy.

The farmers say they are seeking reforms, including the de-centralisation of National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which they reckon will protect it from mismanagement of resources including funds meant to pay them for their produce and distribution of subsidised farm inputs.

“Governors and County officials understand farmers in their jurisdiction and need to be given an upper hand in management of NCPB for delivery of quality services,” said Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director.

However, the North Rift farmers lauded the sacking of Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri who was replaced by Peter Munya.