Dear farmers, especially maize farmers from Rift Valley area. It is very sad to see you crying and whining every year about poor maize prices and the high cost of production
I have been following the debate about maize for quite some time now; the topic has refused to die away. The media has given it enough coverage for their own selfish interests – everything about this country is selfish interest anyway. The controversy really sells and sells well at that.
Back to the maize issue. Following the basic principles of commerce, i.e. supply and demand, there shouldn’t be a lot of hullabaloo about maize prices. From my perspective maize prices should also be subjected to the same scale of supply and demand.
However, maize seems to have a special place in the heart of government, therefore, the government itself will set the market price for it. At least the price at which is the grain buying arm (NCPB) will buy. And yesterday, they decided they will buy a 90 kg bag at Kshs 2,300/-. Okay, I am not a farmer so I don’t know if that price is fair or not. For me, the only marketable skill I have is milking cows.
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The entire debate about prices is very uncomfortable for me since we have more serious issues to spend our time discussing.
Several issues seem to arise here:
First I am told ugali is the staple food in Kenya – at least that is what my GHC teacher said while were in primary school. Those of us who attended primary school know what GHC means, and those of you who attended academies, you call it social studies.
Therefore since ugali is our stable food, the government will have a special interest in the sector. Remember it is the same government that taxes you for everything: from thinking new ideas for making a living to mundane stuff like social media. Imagine being paying tax for liking stupid ugly photos from your friends who update their profile pictures and covers every hour since they have low self-esteem.
The government now determines the price at the tail end of the production process. In the beginning, they give subsidized fertilizer only the rest the farmer will have to bear all the cost.
The same entity will buy the maize at that set price of i.e Kshs 2,500/- but for very limited amount maybe 5 million bags utmost.
In a good year, the farmers in the entire country will produce about 20 million bags. That is if they use certified seeds as quality seeds respond better to applied fertilizers, leads to uniformity in plant population and maturity. Good seeds prolong the life of a variety, ensure easy yield prediction, as well as easy post-harvest operation and high produce value and marketability, is ensured. Farming pays and quality crop produces and better returns when all other factors of crop production and agricultural practices are optimal.
But why does the government have to but the maize, for what purpose? Well, the government does have its own children and it cares for them. So in case, there is drought the maize will be sold to millers at a profit for them to produce unga. They can also give out free of charge to drought-stricken areas. They can also give out to schools for some feeding program.
There is this animal called Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). I am told they are supposed to monitor the amount of grain in the country and advice the government appropriately.
After farmers have gone through hell to produce the 20 million bags and sell about 5 million bags to the government, what should they do with the balance of 15 million bags? Remember these farmers have no prior contractual agreement that compels the government to buy from them. The government is merely doing them a favor.
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This is where I lose the farmers, this entire article at first seemed to bash the government, I have no problem with the government. My problem is with the farmer, please be creative. Not many of us are farmers, so you still have a lot of market for your grains. There are 45 million of us and each one of us consumes one bag of maize every year.
For anything to be an object of commerce, it has to be made to be scarce, and maize is already scarce. We have a surplus of 15 million bags against a population of 45 million.
But your problem as farmers is that you want to sell only to the government, that’s being lazy and uncreative. There are a few challenges associated with selling to the government. First is the paperwork involved – you have to prove that you harvested the maize from your own farm, your village elder, area chief and the agricultural officer must certify to that effect.
Secondly, you have to ferry them maize to the nearest NCPB depot and wait in line for weeks on end, this brings the temptation to sell to brokers who know the system. If you decide to sell to the brokers, you will have to accept a lower price, many do not have any other option considering the vehicle was hired and you have to pay per day. If on the other hand, you succeed to deliver the produce to NCPB then you will have to bear with delayed payment and all other bureaucracies associated with dealing with public officers.
The bottom line is that MARKETING IS THE PROBLEM. The rests are just excuses and blame games
My advice is that you have a bigger market outside government. Go look for markets in areas where they do not grow maize like the coastal northern and eastern areas. Go even as far as Somalia and Ethiopia.
But you should also remember that you are facing competition from other food products like noodles, rice, bananas, avocados, and kumbe kumbe etc. It is no longer a monopoly.
Having understood all the factors necessary for quality crop production and better returns, I think maize farming should be a good venture. Given you get to rest for the rest of the year. Goodluck!