Don’t gamble with food security issues

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020 00:00 |
Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security. Photo/PD/file

The Ministry of Agriculture and the National Treasury should stop gambling with the country’s food security by ending the ongoing wrangles relating to the position of the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR). 

As the country’s main granary, it behooves the ministers responsible to ensure the reserve is always ready to mop up available grain.

To, therefore, learn that the Agriculture ministry has ruled out the SFR’s intention to buy maize from farmers this season raises fundamental questions, not only about the integrity of the country’s food reserve but also regarding supremacy wars around the Sh5 billion fund. 

Already, a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture whose Principal Secretary is a signatory to the SFR funds and also sits on its board indicates the board will not have access to cash. 

Although the unit had been disbanded in May 2020 and is in the middle of a legal fight, the plight of farmers and their stock cannot be wished away.

As a matter of fact, farmers are at a crossroads since SFR announced two weeks ago it had set aside Sh5 billion to purchase maize from them this season, on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it seems the supremacy war between the Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board and the ministry over management of the grains fund has thrown farmers under the bus.

The tiff comes even as the market in which they operate is already troubled with the value chain in a mess. Such wrangles seem to signal cartels to make their move, to the detriment of farmers.

It would, therefore, help if relevant parties  follow due process since the High Court already granted a stay on the board’s mandate, allowing it to discharge its duties as outlined in the regulations. 

However, this must quickly be followed by looking at the Strategic Food Reserve Board role under the Public Finance Management — Strategic Food Trust Fund — regulations, 2015.

Answers to queries whether the board has similar roles to those of the National Cereals and Produce Board and whether to restructure the latter to make it a commercial entity must be fast-tracked. However, this must not stop the flow of food into the reserve. 

More importantly, the two ministries must  tell  us whether ongoing reforms can allow the market forces of demand and supply to determine prices, the market will free itself from restrictions that come with government’s arm in the market place.

Farmers need a quick solution to these fundamental issues to enable them to respond to the market with certainty.

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