Such is the extent of state capture by maize cartels of Western NCPB depots that it demands of us two stories and a song to tell: The story of Sadam’s fate, a Ghanaian folktale; and the poignant message of Mayi Muro, a contemporary Bukusu folk music hit. It is a situation that’s alike to a plaque building up in the left cardiac, threatening to arrest life out of the maize farmer of Mulembe.
Before we get to these three stories, let’s set the stage. What is in plain sight at Western NCPB depots, will make you doubt not only your eyes, but also your sanity. Baye! It’s beyond belief. Until now, I had always thought of the fate of Sadam, my grandmother’s plough ox, as the saddest. But even the story of the extinction of Sadam, his kin and kindred’s germ line doesn’t tell the tragedy of our brothers, breaking back, literally, at cereals. Maybe, the deceit filled, back stabbing drama of Kweku Ananse and his friend Akwasi will do better. Better, but barely. So in our quest, we found truth in Wanyonyi Omukoyi’s Mayi Muro.
This expose will follow this format.
We will first idealize what a strategic asset such as NCPB should mean to the disenfranchised people of Mulembe. Then, we take a snap shot of what it is like being a maize farmer in Mulembe Nation before closing off with how the modern happening in NCPB depots in Western, mirror the story of Sadam; the tragicomedy fable of Kweku Ananse and his friend Akwasi; and the soul of the sociopolitical conscious Lubukusu hit: Mayi Muro by Wanyonyi Omukoyi featuring Nyongesa Wambasi.
Policy brief: The utopian ideal of a granular, decentralized NCPB that’s more efficient than the hyena maize middlemen
I have always imagined the National Produce and Cereals Board as an oasis of hope for farmers. One of those strategic installations that aids government pursue its basic responsibility of maximizing the welfare of citizens, rather than pursuit of some abstract concept of the global good; as recently opined by eminent economist Larry Summers in his FT column on a call for a new outlook to globalization.
In this light, NCPB depots should be somewhat of a tonic that works to balm the pangs of poverty. With the region’s industries ailing, Western NCPB depots should step up and save the people by allowing even the most humble of households breaking back tilling their points, a chance to earn coin and contribute to nation building. One way of doing this would be NCPB facilitating agribusiness by enabling farmers to aggregate their produce for sale to the National Strategic Grain Reserves.
Aggregate, I deliberately talk of, as in this utopian ideal — where NCPB is granular in the manner of maize middlemen laying wait, deep in mulembe land and other grain baskets of Kenya to mop up any gain — would be no easy task.
To save the small scale farmer, NCPB to work like these middlemen. The middleman is the sinoatrial node of maize cartels who purchase the nation’s staple from ailing farmers at a song. They prey on desperate peasants whose only claim is to to meet their needs and wants.
The carnivorous ingenuity of these cartels is manifest through such blood sucking tactics as making it possible for the farmers to sell even minute amounts of their produce (as low as a kilo), might be too much to ask for, for now.
Local Solutions: Designing ideal Western NCPB depots
Nonetheless, NCPB should not shy away from shepherding sustainable aggregation of farm produce from small scale farmers. This way, the nation\’s interests will be served as we should be able to bestow the curse of necrosis on the supply lines of the maize cartels. Self serving alliances who buy – steal our maize by the Korokoro (sielpi) and kilo (using faulty weights) deep in Musakasa, Sichei, Musikoma and as far west as Ikolomani.
A nimble, responsive, devolved NCPB working for the interest of local communities is wonderful preposition. If we were to speak truth to the perennial issue of maize shortage and national grain reserves insufficient to last us through the lean times, we have to entertain such possibilities in all their impracticality. Because it is in impossibility and absurdity where innovation rests.
Besides, the technology that has yielded worthy results for similar initiatives by non-state actors, notably the WFP/AMPATH project in Uasin Gishu county and WFP/Smart Logistics partnerships, is nothing other than simple aggregation of produce from small producers.
This organizational technology is then backed by simple storage facilities constructed from locally available materials. It draws its impetus from community organizational structures, primarily the ubiquitous ‘chama’ system so prevalent in Kenya’s traditional bread baskets.
The Kenyan reality: Every farmer for themselves, God for us all
Some half a century plus, post articulation of our aspirations as an independent nation in fighting hunger, it tragically remains too much asking for a Kenyan farmer to ask access market for their produce. As the pitfalls of neoliberalism, globalization and their minions – lopsided global trade agreements – continue to unravel early this 21st century, any state worth its salt can do one thing, and only one thing: embrace protectionism in strategic sectors of its economy.
In this emerging paradigm, Kenya should strive to shore up agriculture which according to FAO contributes:
26 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and another 27 per cent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors. The sector employs more than 40 per cent of the total population and more than 70 per cent of Kenya\’s rural people….The seaccounts for 65 per cent of the export earnings, and provides the livelihood (employment, income and food security needs) for more than 80 per cent of the Kenyan population and contributes to improving nutrition through production of safe, diverse and nutrient dense foods. The sector is also the min driver of the non-agricultural economy including manufacturing, providing inputs and markets for non-agricultural operations such as building/construction, transportation, tourism, education and other social services.
Protectionism here (of the many ways) might mean that produce of maize farmers in all producing areas gets a ready market from the state through the publicly funded NCPB. Explain to me as you would to a two year old, why Kenyan taxpayer shillings should be used to subsidize Kenyan farmers to purchase fertilizer, yet when it comes to purchase of ready produce, Kenyan public money ends up benefiting the Ugandan, Tanzanian and even Mexican farmer?
That, my brother, is the evil work of maize cartels. Nothing but pure witchcraft.
Western NCPB depots and Pure Anguish, same WhatsApp Group
By the time the hired lorry laden with the farmer’s produce snakes up to join the queue at whichever NCPB, the children of each of all those working in the value chain have eaten – the guy with the tractor who ploughed the fields, Kenya Seed through sale of seed, casual labor to load/offload/apply farm inputs, the agro vet guy who sells the pesticides/herbicides and even the transport guy who charges a premium for transporting a commodity in demand like maize. All, except for the farmer’s children.
So you can imagine the farmer’s stress level hormones when he lines up to sell his produce. A draining misadventure, whose drive to undertake is fueled only by the only hope that it will be fair trade. That’s all the farmer hopes for after a year working with the soil with no respite in the form of earnings.
For the farmer, who depends on making this sale in order to satisfy his needs and wants, spending days (remember the truck ferrying his produce charges exorbitantly as waiting charges) jumping over logs thrown under his/her feet by the well-organized maize cartels resident in most NCPB depots in Western Kenya is pure anguish.
All this whilst our sources report that as much as 270 metric tons of maize was moved one Monday morning, in a Western NCPB depot. Maize who’s origin is thought to be a neighboring country.
He stood at more than five feet. Seven feet from muzzle to tail tip. Stocky. Thick neck with a dirty cream hide. He was the first among the Zebus within several miles of my father’s farm. Sadam was on high demand during the plough season. Booking had to be made during this season’s plough for the next.
Father made good money lending him out as ye mulaini khu sipana. Enough to educate us, some more to purchase a Yamaha motorcycle and some left for soft power moves – having location’s elites cram our humble living area every other evening at seven to catch the day’s news on our 14 inch, black and white, Chinese made, red, Greatwall TV.
Then one day, father came home to the news that Sadam had charged at our youngest. This had happened before to the rest of us, but never to T9 as we affectionately called my little sister, the animal charmer. T9 had a way with animals. Petite, with the edge of a terrier and named after my father’s mother. Even at age four, she could speak to animals. You’d always find Sadam (it’s T9 who christened the bull otherwise known as Nyundo – Sadam) chewing cud with T9 intermittently feeding him tufts of grass.
So when the deed happened, it was one of the two to go. Father knew that with T9’s stubborn attitude, no amount of warnings would keep her from the animals. So to the village butcher’s knife, Sadam fell. And just like that, in the middle of April, just after the first shoots of newly planted crops were beginning to show, a sleepy village somewhere in Mulembe enjoyed stewed beef for dinner.
If an epitaph for Sadam ever was written, it would read something like that of the proverbial woman in the thirty first chapter of the holy book. For just like this virtuous woman who King Solomon visualized after being blessed with wisdom, the strength of Sadam’s back fed, clothed and brought us great fame and honor. But still, he was dispensable and died a miserable death. Sadam never got to build his cathedral like Tom the builder in Ken Follet bestseller The Pillars of the Earth.
He didn’t even get a chance to sire, as for the chance to be better fed than the others, slave for and be rewarded with the position of the master’s most prized, Sadam had to forgo the chance to mate. Champion plough oxen are always castrated so as to enable them build mass needed for the task. When I look at my brethren at the cereals boards heaving 90kg bags on their backs, I’m somewhat reminded of the sad story of Sadam: reduced to nothing but pure sacrifice of their own bodies to help another build the empires of others. For them their kin and kindred, forever denied the chance of ever building their cathedrals.
The story of Kweku Ananse and His Friend Akwasi
West African folklore has the sad tale of these two friends. Read the full story here. But the long short is a fable of a hunchback rainmaker, an accessible god and two friends. Brethren who are afflicted by an African disease: greed and jealousy.
In this Ghanaian folklore, Ananse tries to use cunning ways to direct the curse of god on the other, but the curse boomerangs and renders his land forever a desert thereby disinheriting his future generations. To appreciate why we find the morals of this folklore from a faraway land relevant to unmasking how Western NCPB depots cartels disenfranchise small scale farmers in Western Kenya, we implore on the reader to take time and listen to this oft underappreciated Bukusu folk song : Mayi Muro