Kenyan farmers ushered in the New Year an unhappy lot thanks to the need to meet urgent family obligations against the backdrop of unpaid dues.
Producers, who have a lot of obligations this January, including taking their children to school, have been left at a crossroads as the money that they hoped to use is yet to be released from the Treasury and millers.
The most affected are sugarcane and maize farmers.
Whereas millions of shillings owed to farmers remain with millers, thousands of maize growers are still stuck with their crop for lack of market while others have their funds held at National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
The board is yet to open its depots for purchasing of the grain even as an avalanche of middlemen hover around farmers, offering rock bottom prices.
The Cabinet approved buying price of maize last year but purchasing is yet to start, with Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture telling Smart Company last year that they are still waiting for funds from the Treasury.
“It is the wrong time to be a farmer in Kenya. Our plight is manifested through the miseries that we are undergoing right now, making it hard for us to meet the most basic needs for our family,” says Fredrick Muhorela, a farmer in Trans-Nzoia County.
Mr Muhorela, who is a maize producer, says they have not had good times in the last two seasons.
Firstly, the importation of maize last year flooded the market driving the price of the staple to a historic low. Secondly, the government bought maize and stayed with their money for a very long time.
“We give our best to make the country food secure but our efforts are always thwarted by the very government that should be shielding us,” said the devastated farmer.
The farmer opted to sell some of his maize at a throw away price in order to meet the needs of his children who resumed school this month.
The Cabinet had set an initial buying price of Sh2,300 per bag but President Uhuru Kenyatta has directed NCPB to pay farmers Sh2,500 per 90-kilo bag.
The delays are likely to affect farming activities this year as farmers rely on profit ploughed back from the previous crop to plant the next season crop.
Sugar farmers have not been spared from the miseries of delayed payment but unlike maize growers, these ones have had their money held for a very long time.
Last year in November, the government announced that it was going to release funds to five factories so that they can pay farmers, but so far the deal has not been honoured.
In his Mashujaa Day speech in Kakamega last year in October, Mr Kenyatta said the government was putting in place reforms that will ensure farmers are in future paid on time for cane delivered to sugar millers.
“My administration has consistently focused on supporting sugarcane farming. It is not acceptable that cane factories have been collecting cane from farmers and not paying for it while we know very well demand for sugar has been on the rise,” said Mr Kenyatta.
The farmers have been waiting in vain since the announcement was made last year, making many of them to lose hope.
The situation for cane farmers is much worse given that they delivered cane and they do not have any other thing to sell, unlike maize farmers who might decide to sell the grain that they are holding, even if it is at a throw away price.