In October last year Kitui governor Charity Ngilu launched the Ndengu Revolution. The aim of the Sh100 million programme was to make green grams Kitui’s key cash crop to help end the vicious cycle of hunger and create wealth for residents.
Ngilu partnered with the Kenya Red Cross Society to distribute 400 tonnes of certified green gram seeds to farmers in readiness for the October-December short rains.
Speaking during the launch at the Kitui town bus and matatu terminus, Ngilu said farmers were expected to earn at least Sh3.6 billion from the sale of ndengu. She said every kilogramme would be purchased at Sh100.
Red Cross secretary general Abbas Gullet said the organisation had set aside Sh500 million to buy green grams from the October-December rains harvest. Fifty tonnes of seeds were handed out at the launch.
But, as fate would have it, the rains were inadequate and discouraged many farmers from planting the seeds. The few who planted, got little or no yield as their crop withered prematurely.
Months later, with adequate rain during the March-May season, most farmers devoted many acres to green grams. They had after all been promised that a kilogramme of ndengu would be purchased at Sh100.
A maturing ndengu crop in a farm in Mandongoi area of Kyuso division, Kitui county, as pictured in May 2018. /MUSEMBI NZENGU
Ngilu’s administration had also provided pesticide to spray the crop to ensure high quality yields.
The result of the efforts was a bumper harvest—more than 33,000 tonnes of ndengu. Ngilu’s value chain adviser Temi Mutia said the revolution has been a success.
But even as the administration celebrates the success, the elephant in the room is the elusive market where, as promised, a kilogramme of ndengu would be bought for Sh100.
Brokers and profiteers have taken advantage of the lack of the promised market and are buying the ndengu for between Sh30 and Sh45 a kilogramme. The green gram glut appears to have become a curse rather than a blessing for Kitui farmers, who are now pleading with the governor to do whatever it takes to honour her pledge.
Jane Muasi of Masyungwa, Mwingi North subcounty, is one such desperate farmer.
“I am calling on the governor to come to our aid and ensure that our ndengu is bought for Sh100 a kilo as she had promised. We are currently incurring huge loses in the hands of merciless brokers, who are buying our crop at a throwaway price,” she said.
Another disillusioned farmer, John Mutemi, said most residents do not have alternative sources of livelihood. “We have to grudgingly sell our ndengu to the exploitative middlemen because we must raise money to pay school fees and meet other family and domestic obligations,” he said.
He said all their hopes were pegged on Ngilu. “We are looking upon our governor to turn around our fortune by ensuring our ndengu attracts the promised Sh100 per kilogram,” Mutemi said.
Ngilu has come under fire from a number of county politician for not keeping her promise to ensure a market for farmers. Some are accusing her of abandoning residents to the mercy of brokers.
Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua has publicly demanded that Ngilu make good her promise to ensure farmers sell ndengu for Sh100 per kilogramme. He said residents worked hard to produce the green gram because Ngilu had promised attractive returns.
Speaking during a fundraiser at Kyondoni Mixed Secondary School, Kitui West constituency, a fortnight ago, Wambua called for an audit of the project.
He said the county is unlikely to recoup its investment as brokers are buying the produce for a song.
On June 25 Ngilu had told off Kitui leaders cynical of the Ndengu Revolution.
Addressing a stakeholders meeting at Kitui Kefri centre, Ngilu appeared to have been angered by two MCAs, Kasee Musya (deputy speaker) and Peter Kilonzo (majority leader), who had poured cold water on the success of the project. The duo had addressed the meeting before Ngilu arrived.
She told the critics that they had no business casting aspersions on her projects. She asked them to tell voters what they were doing to improve their lot instead.
KRCS Secretary General Abbas Gulleid and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu in Kitui town during the launch of the Ndengu Revolution programme, October 10, 2017. /MUSEMBI NZENGU
Ngilu criticised the MCAs for attempting to derail the agenda of the meeting. “This is a meeting of ndengu farmers. These leaders have no business demanding they be consulted before we meet the farmers. The leaders should only be in this meeting as farmers,” she said.
Ngilu explained why she had failed to deliver the promised price. The governor said she had visited India, which consumes more than 80 per cent of the green grams produced in the world
“We had expected India would mop up all the ndengu in Kitui but during my visit, I established that the country had placed an embargo on the importation of ndengu as it had realised a surplus green gram harvest due to good monsoon rains,” Ngilu said.
The governor said she approached the National Youth Service to buy the ndengu and a deal was struck with the immediate former director general Richard Ndubai.
She lamented that the gods appeared to have conspired against her as, even before the deal could materialise, the Sh9 billion NYS scandal broke out and Ndubai was sent parking.
“I want to assure you that all is not lost. I also approached President Uhuru Kenyatta, who indicated that the disciplined forces would buy our ndengu at reasonable prices,” Ngilu told the meeting.
She urged farmers to be patient and store their harvest well as her administration looks for a market.
“I am optimistic that if our farmers will be patient and not sell the yield hurriedly, there will eventually be light at the end of the tunnel. We should be willing to appreciate if we secured a buyer who could offer around Sh70 per kilogramme,” Ngilu said.
Speaking in Kitui on Thursday as she unveiled newly hired 323 medical staff at the Kitui County referral hospital, Ngilu urged Kitui people to also consume the ndengu they had produced even as a favorable market was being sought.
“Our people should eat ndengu because it is superior to meat in terms of nutritional value,” she said.
Mutia said it is misplaced and ill-conceived to blame Ngilu for the poor prices.
“The critics should know that prices of agricultural produce are dictated by forces of supply and demand. They should Google to establish the current global price of green grams. They should smell the coffee and be real,” he said.
He said even in a vegetarian country such as India one tonne of green grams is being sold at between $600 (Sh60,360 ) and $650 (sh65,390 ). He said that put the price of a kilogramme of green grams at Sh65.
Mutia said at the time of the launch of the Ndengu Revolution a kilogramme would have fetched Sh100 since supply was inadequate. The global glut has made that price untenable, he said.
Last Tuesday, NASA leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka weighed in on the market issue. They were attending the opening ceremony of the Kitui Villa Hotel owned by Prof Makau Mutua, who is a lecturer in New York.
Kalonzo urged Kitui MCAs to set up laws to guide farmers. He said the government should buy ndengu from the farmers and resell it at an attractive price. Raila said India Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to lift the ban on ndengu imports from Kenya.
Modi met Raila and his wife Ida more than a week ago. Raila said Kitui should look to import green grams to Vietnam as well.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kitui on July 10, 2018. /MUSEMBI NZENGU