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‘Don’t sell maize cheaply’: Do governors know Kenya is free market economy?

Farmers in most maize growing areas countrywide are harvesting their crop, leading to an oversupply and resultant sharp price slump of the staple food.

That, for good reasons, is worrying. Some governors in the crop bases have been reported, repeatedly, asking the farmers not to sell their harvest cheaply, and that they should hold on to their produce until the prices improve.

Let’s sample some of those cautionary words as reported by different media to appreciate the gravity of the matter.

Citizen Digital on July 31 reported that Siaya Governor James Orengo “has pleaded” with farmers in Rarieda sub-county not to sell their produce at throwaway prices. We were told that Rarieda had harvested high yields “following the mechanisation of agriculture and the provision of certified seeds by Siaya County government during the long rains season. He expressed fear that the farmers may sell all the produce cheaply.”

Orengo was concerned that some farmers had started selling their maize below Sh100 for two kilograms (locally known as ‘gorogoro’). The same sellers, he predicted, would – after a short while – buy a gorogoro at as high as Sh230.

Orengo’s administration would liaise with the county assembly to get funds allocated for buying maize at a reasonable price. His government would then store it for future use so that the county does not face food shortage.

Over in Bungoma County, Governor Kenneth Lusaka was cautioning farmers against “falling prey to middlemen, who are driving the current exploitative maize prices,” as reported by the Kenya News Agency on August 7.

“Don’t be lured into selling maize cheaply. You deserve better. Stay put as we seek stability for maize prices,” he said.

In a story titled, “Brokers pitch tent in Trans Nzoia as maize prices drop by half,” The Standard reported on August 29 that Governor George Natembeya had warned farmers against selling maize cheaply.

 “I appeal to farmers not to sell their crop at throwaway prices. We expect the price to drop, and it is good to store the crop. These people come and buy maize for as cheap as Sh2,000 per bag. They sell the same later at Sh5,000 and make an abnormal profit.”

Reading their unsolicited advice, the governors come across as well-meaning leaders but without roadmaps out of the problem.

Granted, some county governments provided farmers with free or subsidised fertilisers and related farm inputs, leading to the high yields. They are, therefore, perfectly in order to warn the farmers against selling their produce cheaply to ensure food security. While at it, they should be aware that counties don’t have dedicated silos for crop storage and preservation.

None of the governors sampled seemed to appreciate the general grinding poverty afflicting most households in Kenya. Each farmer has individual needs they must meet by selling whatever is at their disposal, including maize.

The latest Kenya Poverty Report (2021) by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says at least five out of every 13 Kenyans live in poverty. It also notes that two out of every five Kenyans in rural areas and two of every six in urban areas live in poverty.

About 30 per cent of citizens are unable to meet their food needs, with more rural than urban dwellers living in hunger.

Back to the governors. They sound detached from these realities. Their seeming collective naivete shows when they ask hungry people not to sell their maize to sort out personal needs. It is also intriguing that none of the leaders said exactly what their governments were doing to shield farmers from post-harvest losses occasioned by the lack of storage. Many small-scale maize farmers don’t have safe and affordable places to store their harvest to wait for prices to improve.

Also, it is wrong to roundly frame and condemn all buyers of maize as cartels and ill-intentioned. In Kenya’s free market economy, demand, and supply rule supreme. It’s a willing buyer handshaking a willing seller.

Journalists fail badly when they don’t ask newsmakers relevant questions to lend their stories cogent contexts. Media platforms must not be turned into public noticeboards where influential people post their unverified claims and bended pieces of advice.

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