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Ruto backyard MPs resist plan to import maize

Thursday, November 24th, 2022 02:00 | By
Kimilili MP Didmas Barasa (centre) on Tuesday addresses a press conference on maize importation plan. He is flanked MPs from North Rift. PD/Kenna Claude

President William Ruto was yesterday facing a revolt in his Rift Valley backyard following the planned importation of 10 million bags of maize, including the Genetically-Modified (GMO) varieties.

Farmers and leaders from the North Rift grain basket who spoke to People Daily yesterday hit out at the Kenya Kwanza administration over what they termed as being insensitive to the plight of farmers.

Among the lawmakers leading what appears like a simmering rebellion over the government’s plan to import the maize include Mosop MP Abraham Kirwa, Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, Kwanza’s Ferdinand Wanyonyi, Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) and Clement Sloya (Sabatia).

The legislators have called on the government to suspend the move, arguing that it will destabilise the local market.

They have also threatened to impeach Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria over his role in the maize importation plan.

Suspect move

Yesterday, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya said the government should rethink decision to lift the ban on GMOs.

“There was a need for proper stakeholder involvement before the ban was lifted. The government’s move to lift the ban on genetically modified crops is suspect,” said Natembeya who spoke in Kitale.

Trans Nzoia is among the country’s grain baskets. He said GMOs will not only threaten the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in counties that produce maize but will also pose a threat to Kenyans’ health.

According to North Rift farmers, the planned importation is a wider scheme to flood the local market with cheap and health risk produce and render maize farming unprofitable, despite Kenya Kwanza pledging to revamp the sector during the campaigns.

The unrest in the President’s backyard came a day after furious MPs adjourned normal business on Tuesday to debate the controversial importation of the commodity amid reports that a ship had arrived at Berth Seven at the Mombasa port with 10,000 tonnes of maize. It was not clear if the consignment was GM or regular.

Food insecure

Kirwa — who took the Motion to the floor of the House — said farmers in maize growing areas were in shock following the government’s decision to import maize when the region was preparing for a bumper harvest.

He said farmers in the Rift Valley had harvested between 30 and 40 million bags, which were enough to feed the country.

About 23 counties, including Baringo in the Rift Valley, have been declared food insecure after prolonged drought.

“We are concerned that even as harvesting of maize continues, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is yet to open its silos,” Kirwa said, “We have enough maize and the government should be buying locally instead of importing.”

A spot check by People Daily established that maize prices have hit a record Sh5,300 per 90 kilogram bag in the North Rift amid the scarcity of the produce with farmers warning that the importation will destabilise the prices.

John Sawe, a small-scale farmer in Uasin Gishu county, said the decision to import maize will hurt them, claiming they had pumped millions of money into maize farming with the hope of recouping their investment with sale to NCPB.

Last season, farmers faced acute shortage of fertiliser that pushed the prices of the commodity up.

“The government should be sensitive to the plight of the local farmers and suspend the planned importation until the local produce has been exhausted,” said Kipkorir arap Menjo, a Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director.

The farmers have also questioned the rationale behind the timing and the quantities of maize to be imported.

“We have never witnessed importation of maize during the harvest season since independence. The importation will negatively affect farmers because it will push down prices,” said North Rift Co-operative Union official David Kiberenge.

The Council of Governors Agriculture Committee chairperson Kenneth Lusaka has also faulted the planned importation saying they were not consulted.

Technical committee

Speaking in Bungoma, Lusaka and his Vihiga counterpart Wilber Otichilo said the proposal by the Ministry of Trade and Industrialisation to import GMO Maize puts Kenyan farmers at a disadvantaged position as they will not be able to sell their maize at a price commensurate to their production costs.

“The discussion to import GMO was premature as a report on the Maize Balance Sheet by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development projects a maize surplus of 19.1 million bags by end of December 2022,” said Lusaka.

He proposed the formation of a Joint Technical Committee to oversee the execution of the lifting of the GMO ban.

He added that the Committee should incorporate farmers, academia and other interested parties to enhance transparency and information sharing on GMO.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi has also said he will rally Azimio lawmakers to ensure they block importation of maize, saying that Kenyan farmers have capacity to produce enough food.

Osotsi said the government should buy maize from local farmers at good prices instead of going for GMOs.

Religious leaders

He claimed GMO foods are harmful for human consumption.

“These GMO foods are the major contributors to cancer complications and subjecting ourselves to such will subject our lives to danger,” Osotsi said.

MPs from maize-growing areas said they would summon Kuria and his Agriculture counterpart, Mithika Linturi, to respond to the questions legislators want answered.

Kuria had said on Thursday that he would sign an order last Friday creating a six-month window for duty free importation of GM and regular maize. Barely four days later, a ship with maize docked at the Mombasa port.

Kuria’s pronouncement sparked uproar among political and religious leaders, who are opposed to importation of GM maize.

“We are contemplating moving to court to challenge the move if the government fails to stop the importation,” National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi told the MPs.

However, Kangema MP Peter Irungu differed with his colleagues, saying the issue of GMOs had been taken out of context.

He argued that there was no evidence to show that GMO foods are harmful. He accused civil society groups of using the debate for self-interests.

“People feed on genetically modified foods in restaurants and no one questions this. Why pick on maize?” Irungu asked.

—Additional reporting by Enock Amukhale

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