Fertiliser worth billions of shillings meant for Kenya farmers disappeared with a few unscrupulous businessmen, taking advantage of the distribution of government subsidised fertiliser and payment for maize supplies to farmers to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
It all started when unscrupulous middlemen and corrupt Ministry of Agriculture officials began by hoarding subsidised fertiliser and frustrating farmers’ efforts to get payment for maize supplied to the NCPB.
The fertilizer was later given to businessmen who repackaged it for sale to the farmers. It is estimated that subsidised fertiliser worth Sh6.3 billion could have been looted.
Already, and after he was questioned by the Board, the Managing Director Newton Terer opted to resign. Although he is not off the hook.
The cartels are said to have exploited loopholes in the vetting channels to access government-subsidised fertiliser, and the soft under-belly of the ministry to frustrate farmers.
“First, they compromised vetting committees charged with identifying genuine farmers to enable them to buy the input at a subsidised price of Sh1,500 from the NCPB stores,” a source told Top Farmer.
“The cartels then worked with brokers to repackage the fertiliser for sale to desperate farmers at between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 per 50kg bag at retail markets.”
With the subsidised fertiliser sold, an artificial shortage happened in NCPB stores and the farmers were forced to buy the fertiliser from the retailers.
And because of that, many small-scale farmers were denied access to the subsidised maize which was meant to stabilise the maize prices in the county.
As detectives move in to investigate what happened, the agriculture officials are on the spot for colluding with individuals registered as farmers to approve sale of subsidised fertiliser to them in large quantities.
“The move caused an artificial shortage of the input. The crooks, among them NCPB officials, took advantage of the free market economy to frustrate farmers. We planted late because of the delays to access the subsidised fertiliser,” a Nakuru-based farmer told a local daily.
Another farmer from Trans Nzoia County said the rogue traders bought as much as 10,000 bags to sell to outlets at higher prices.
“Some traders would resell the subsidised fertiliser at between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 per bag after repackaging it,” the farmer added.
On February 11, Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe said the State purchased 100,000 metric tonnes of subsidised fertiliser which was to be sold to farmers at Sh1,500 per 50kg bag, down from Sh1,800 in 2017.
But with no system put in place, the cartels came up with their own system: “The vetting involved an application by a farmer indicating the acreage of land under cultivation and quantities of fertiliser requested. That is where the cartels got a loophole,” another farmer said.
The vetting teams included local administration, Agriculture officials and three other community members who, after the exercise, presented the names to the headquarters.
An official at the NCPB said once they got the greenlight from the vetting teams, they could not determine who was a genuine farmer and who was not.
The crooks registered multiple members of their families and acquired consignments that were later repackaged for sale.
Poor communication and unnecessary delays from the NCPB officials further led to a long wait – sometimes weeks – for the subsidised fertiliser.
But it was not just theft of subsidised fertiliser; the ministry is also on the spot over the irregular importation of maize into the country that saw traders collude with senior managers at the NCPB to make at least Sh2 billion at the expense of farmers.
The latest maize scandal at NCPB, the custodian of the country’s strategic grain reserve on behalf of the ministry, has since seen Dr Lesiyampe suspend five managers from Moi’s Bridge, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Bungoma regions.
Dozens of NCPB employees are also being investigated over the scam that has rocked the Ministry.