Maize is of fundamental importance in Africa as a staple food, a tool for economic development and political stability, and is useful when it comes to the welfare of the poor. Maize accounts for 30-50 percent of the expenditure of low-income households in East and Southern Africa, hence when prices of this commodity are high, the poor are the most affected. The value of maize is very low in relation to transport within the African continent, rendering intra-regional trade and exporting of this commodity almost impossible. This has led to a large difference between import and export parity prices. The problems of maize marketing are made worse by other constraints such as unreliable rainfall, low capitalization of smallholder agriculture in Africa, and stunted-to-declining production of the commodity. This has made Africa a net importer of maize.
All these problems have implications on the working of a liberalized grain market especially for smallholder farmers, who are often located in remote areas with poor market information and market infrastructure. Government-controlled chain marketing of grain in Africa floundered in many countries with heavy economic consequences. This ushered in the era of liberalization, which was not only donor driven but was also half-heartedly implemented by countries in Africa leading to mixed cases of successes and mostly failures. In this post-liberalization era, the sector has experienced a declining per capita maize production, reduced consumer prices, an emergency of a large number of informal traders, poorly functioning input supply systems, lack of credit for farmers and traders, and increasing maize imports.
Set against this challenging background, The Maize Marketing Movement was initiated in 1997 by SACRED-Africa, an NGO based in Kenya. It addresses the plight of smallholder farmers and helps them play a more active role in the marketing of their grain in a liberalized economy. The project, which aims at building and empowering strong producer associations and improving the quality of marketed maize, has managed to facilitate the transformation of producer associations into viable marketing associations with strong business acumen. It has also managed to stabilize the prices of maize in the target areas and increased the area under maize.
The Maize Marketing Movement has revolutionized the actions and thinking of poor illiterate farmers. It has served to emphasize that farmers can solve their own problems, if they are helped to understand their situation and facilitated to take action. In the last two years, groups have sold maize worth Ksh.15 million, something that had never been done before. The project's partners include: The Rural Outreach Program, Resource Projects Kenya, Sustainable Community Oriented Program, and The Rockefeller Foundation
The project's future plans include the upcoming proposed establishment of a Farmers' Resource Centre at Mbambe Farmers Field School in Sirisia division, Bungoma district. This will enable farmers to learn and use biological pest and disease control methods to improve farm productivity and income. The resource centre is part of a larger project that will involve PELUM - Kenya (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management) network and other NGOs. It will be equipped with a computer, world space radio, and a mobile phone that will enable farmers download information from the internet.