Kenya farmers’ preference to sell their grains on their own is hurting them with majority counting losses from market vagaries and lack of consistent market.
At the moment, most of the smallholder farmers are stranded with their produce having failed to get market. A glut has seen prices plummet to Sh1500 per 90 kg bag, down from 36 dollars in May.
Farmers are desperately crying for help from the government, which had promised to buy their produce at an average of Sh3, 000 per 90 kg bag.
"If farmers would form groups and sell their maize jointly, they would not be experiencing the problems they are currently facing," Davine Minayo, a market linkages officer at Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) said.
Minayo noted that forming groups enables farmers to have economies of scale and, therefore, they can dictate prices.
"Through groups, farmers can access the big suppliers like maize millers and negotiate for better prices. An individual farmer cannot do this because he does not have the huge number of bags millers demand," she said, adding the groups would also help farmers store their maize through the Warehouse Receipting System(WRS) and thus benefit from better prices.
For farmers to store their maize under the system, they need to have at least 10,000 tonnes of the produce and 5,000tonnes of beans, according to EAGC.
Farmers can only raise such a huge number of bags if they are in groups. Many smallholder farmers in the East African nation harvest 30 90 kg bags of maize since most of them have an average of two acres.
"The WRS will help them get better prices because they will store the maize and sell when prices are higher. The warehouses want the 10,000 tonnes so that they can utilize their facilities to the maximum, process payments easily and deal with a small number of farmers," said Minayo.
Most of the people who are utilizing the system and benefitting from higher prices are millers and traders. They buy maize and beans in bulk from farmers cheaply, store in the warehouses and sell when prices double.
Vincent Namwai, a maize farmer based in Kitale in Rift Valley, acknowledged that they sell their produce as individuals.
"Farmers do not understand the benefits of groups, and we are also not aware of the WRS. Most of us look for market individually when government fails to buy our produce and find it readily from traders," he said.
Namwai noted that farmers should be educated of the concept, among other benefits of being in groups.
"The grouping should start from buying farm inputs, getting extension services and dealing with diseases if it is to be successful," he said.