MPs, food fund clash over set maize prices

Dinah Ondari @dinahondari

A standoff ensued yesterday between MPs and Strategic Food Reserve Fund (SFRF)  board members over the criteria used to set the Sh2,300 price for a 90kg bag of maize that will be paid to farmers.

National Assembly Agriculture Committee sent away a team led by fund chairman Noah Wekesa, accusing them of failing to provide a rationale for the prices announced last week.

The Agriculture committee chaired by Adan Haji (Mandera South MP) said the board was frustrating farmers, adding that it felt the cost of production was much higher than the Sh2,300, which would lead to farmers making huge losses.

“We need a report backed by numbers and evidence that you did proper background checks that led you  to this conclusion. Any other thing will be deemed as a mere statement from a politician,” said the committee.

Ferdinand Wanyonyi (Kwanza) said the committee expected the set price to be about Sh3,200 per bag.

Wekesa, in his defence, said the board set the price it offered last year on grounds that  there had been large imports during the duty-free window allowed by the government last year, a position that the MPs dismissed over concerns that farmers were not consulted.

Wekesa also defended the SFRF leadership, saying the decision was derived from policy guidelines set by the Agriculture ministry in September.

“The  board conducted a survey in February on the cost of maize production in partnership with the Agriculture ministry and Tegemeo Institute.

Counties covered in the survey include Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu. We consulted small-scale and large-scale farmers, the Kenya cereals board and the ministry before arriving at the price,” he said.

He said the board had initially set the price at Sh1,539 per bag but resolved to adjust it upwards to ensure farmers make profit, among other consideration such as tax.

“The board further gave a provision of Sh176 to cushion farmers from unforeseen market factors affecting prices. In consideration of the above, the Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board set a price of Sh2,300 per 90kg bag,” he said. Other considerations include local maize prices. SFR intends to buy 2.5 million bags this year.

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