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Poor grain management jeopardises food security

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is entangled in an integrity crisis following revelations that it is holding 400,000 bags of maize worth nearly Sh1 billion that is unfit for human consumption.

The maize has been stored for more than two years, yet the board is supposed to release maize to the market whenever there is a shortage and buy from farmers during harvests. NCPB also imports maize in case of acute shortages arising from natural calamities such as drought and disease.

Despite the current increase in the cost of maize flour—which the Agriculture ministry and NCPB have downplayed—the one million bags of maize released to cushion the consumers leaves only 1.2 million bags with the board.

Speaking to Parliamentary Agriculture committee, Agriculture Cabinet secretary Willy Bett said at the end of May, the country had an estimated maize stock of 9,446,920 bags, with farmers holding 4,455,600 bags, traders 2,002,180 bags, millers 585,240 bags and NCPB 2,378,760 bags.

With Sh2.2 billion held in the Strategic Food Reserve, coupled with Sh1.6 billion set aside by Treasury for the purchase of maize, the ministry said it will go ahead and purchase more fresh maize from farmers.

Sale of the million bags from NCPB will fetch Sh2.5 billion from millers, which will also come in handy towards meeting the country’s four million bags strategic maize reserve requirements.

The CS was, however, hard pressed to explain how much the taxpayers lost when the maize was left in storage for more than the required two years duration after NCPB blamed the government for delay in ordering sale of maize at its silos for over six years, leading to contamination.

NCPB managing director Newton Keter told the Public Investments Committee that “trustees” of the Strategic Grain Reserve—among them the Principal secretaries in the ministries of Agriculture, Treasury, Interior and Special Programmes—failed to make timely decisions to dispose of maize that had overstayed in the silos.

He said that some of the maize has been in storage for over eight years beyond the two year-period because the trustees had not made a move to dispose the stock. The parliamentary probe later led NCPB to reveal they had more than 400,000 bags of maize (currently 100,000) of maize that was downgraded due to colouration, raising concerns about the country’s strategic reserves. Bett is expected to explain how much money was lost after getting estimates from the board.

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