KITALE, Kenya, (Xinhua) — Maize prices in Kenya’s Rift Valley, the country’s main grain basket has dropped drastically after the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) suspended purchasing the crop from farmers due to lack of funds.

Middlemen have taken advantage of the suspension by the State grain reserve agency to offer poor price. Local farmers said they are irked by plans by the government to import 67,500 tons of maize in the next six months.

“The government is not realistic. We are stranded to sell our crop for better prices after it failed to allocate more money to NCPB. We feel neglected and vulnerable to middlemen,” protested Barnabas Simiyu, a farmer in Saboti, West of Kitale.

The prices have dropped to 23 U.S. dollars for a 90 kilos bag from the previous 34 dollars with grain dealers buying the crop below 20 dollars.

NCPB wound up its operation after it drained 23 million dollars disbursed from the government towards maize purchase. The board chief executive Dr Gideon Misoi said on Wednesday the agency has stocked 600,000 bags of maize from last year’s harvest.

“We have already purchased 0.6 million bags and we expect more money from the government to add more stocks,” Misoi told Xinhua in Kitale, west of the east African nation.

Private grain millers in Kitale, Moi’s Bridge and Eldoret towns are reluctant to buy the crop to lure price drop.

Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KNEFAP), a farmer’s watchdog accused the government of ignoring the plight of farmers and exposing them to exploitation by middlemen.

“This is a serious mess in the government system. Grain dealers have now taken advantage to exploit farmers. We want the state agency to resume purchasing the maize from farmers,” said organization’s Trans-Nzoia Secretary Tom Nyagechaga.

The organization termed as unfair and uncalled for the government to sanction imports instead of providing local farmers incentives to boast production.

The ministry of agriculture said it plans to import 750,000, 90- kg bags of maize from regional and international markets to bolster suppliers, a move likely to weaken the shilling further. The ministry said the national maize stock as at December 31, 2011 stood at 18.7 million bags from 16.6 million the previous month.

The ministry argues that the surplus is expected to ease pressure on the prices of the main staple food, handling relief to East Africa’s biggest economy where rising food, fuel and electricity prices are posing pressure to consumers.

The county last June withdraw import duty on maize and wheat to accelerate inflow from Kenya’s neighboring countries.

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