25 May 2018

Kenya: How Crooks Looted NCPB at the Expense of Farmers

Photo: Jeff Angote/Daily Nation
This image taken on October 28, 2016 shows a banner outside the Ministry of Health warning against corruption.

Details of how distribution of government subsidised fertiliser and payment for maize supplies by farmers to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) were compromised by well-connected individuals can now be revealed.

Investigations by the Nation have exposed how unscrupulous middlemen and dishonest Ministry of Agriculture staff were involved in hoarding subsidised fertiliser and frustrating farmers' efforts to get payment for maize supplied to the NCPB.

The revelations come in the wake of alleged theft of subsidised fertiliser worth Sh6.3 billion as well as the latest maize scandal in the ministry.

Newton Terer has already resigned as NCPB managing director, but he is on the spot since the theft happened under his watch.

VETTING

The Nation has established the cartels exploited loopholes in 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.

The cartels further 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.

The move led to a shortage of the fertiliser in NCPB stores, forcing farmers to buy the input from the retailers at higher prices.

It also led to exclusion of many small-scale farmers from the low-cost inputs.

SHORTAGE

Farmers interviewed by the Nation painted a picture of an elaborate scheme by the cartels to enrich themselves from the government efforts to provide cheap fertiliser to them.

Some agriculture officials colluded 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 said.

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.

SUBSIDISED

On February 11, Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe said the State purchased 100,000 metric tonnes of subsidised fertiliser.

He said the fertiliser would be sold to farmers at Sh1,500 per 50kg bag, down from Sh1,800 in 2017.

According to sources at NCPB, brokers took advantage of the weak and opaque vetting system to deny farmers the cheap fertiliser.

The system lacked proper safeguards and was open to abuse by cartels.

"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.

MAIZE IMPORT

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.

INVESTIGATIONS

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.

More than 60 officers are set for questioning by various investigative authorities on why they rejected maize from local farmers and preferred imports from Uganda to fill the NCPB silos.

On Wednesday, it also emerged that eight traders masquerading as farmers were paid a whopping Sh1.9 billion.

Agriculture and Livestock Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri maintained that he is ready for any consequences that will come out of his efforts to clean up the rot at the NCPB following the revelations.

TRIBALISM

Investigations by the Nation have revealed details of how few "well-connected" farmers received payments as others were left out.

Interviews with farmers who have been supplying the NCPB with maize also painted a picture of deep-rooted tribalism, nepotism and corruption at the NCPB, as farmers from specific communities and relatives of officials were given first priority in payments.

"NCPB has been ruled by tribalism, some farmers who supplied maize in January got paid, but those who supplied in February were left out because they are from a tribe different from the managers," another Nakuru-based farmer said.

It has also emerged that some farmers have been colluding with NCPB officials whom they give kickbacks to get their payments on time.

Officials, including silo managers, got kickbacks of between Sh100,000 and Sh500,000 to help release payments.

PAYMENT

Mr Titus Kiplimo Maiyo, officer in charge of the corporate affairs department at the NCPB headquarters, told the Nation they only paid farmers whose lists they received from the depots.

"Every depot gave us a list of people to be paid, which was to go through the Ministry of Agriculture; so ours was to make payments to those presented," Mr Maiyo said.

He maintained that NCPB has a policy on corruption and that they always adhere to it.

"Furthermore, after the government dispatched money for the payments, we received a directive to pay those who had made supplies amounting to Sh770,000 and below and we have been doing exactly that, depositing money to the various accounts," Mr Maiyo said.

FINANCIAL LOSSES

In Nakuru, suspended South Rift Regional NCPB boss Dennis Mutai was mum on the allegations, referring the Nation to Mr Kiplimo.

A number of farmers who spoke to the Nation narrated their frustration in the hands of cartels that have made them unable to pay school fees for their children.

"I am not able to pay school fees for my four children yet l supplied NCPB with thousands of sacks of maize," a farmer said.

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