Speed up the revival of Strategic Grain Reserve

Wednesday, June 7th, 2023 00:45 | By
Grain in a silo. PHOTO/Courtesy

The Strategic Grain Reserve was a good idea that died too soon, thanks to consecutive seasons of drought that depleted stocks. For as long as it was working as originally envisaged, the reserve — then managed by the National Cereals and Produce Board — cushioned Kenyans from high food prices.

Through it, the government routinely authorised the release of maize and wheat into the market whenever there was a shortage and this served to cool down the cost of maize and wheat flour.

Rather than bemoan its closure, it is time, as senators have signalled, for the government to consider reviving the idea, especially now that the country is anticipating a reasonable harvest after resumption of rains earlier in the year.

The idea of importing zero-rated grains, good as it is as a short-term measure, ultimately translates into putting money in the pockets of farmers in other countries. As has been demonstrated by the war in Ukraine, when there are problems in those countries, Kenyan consumers feel the heat. This is pain the government can help to circumvent by empowering NCPB to start buying grains from farmers in large quantities for re-supply in future. This is one of the best ways of managing food prices in the medium term.

Senators have proposed that NCPB be allocated Sh15 billion to restock its silos. Whereas this is a sound recommendation, there is, however, need for it to be ring-fenced from corruption to ensure the programme achieves the aims for which it is being set up. It should not be a conduit for unscrupulous public officials to divert money or supply non-existent grain as used to happen in the past.

Sh15 billion is a lot of money. It has the potential to transform grain farming by offering farmers a ready market in a country where access to market remains one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture. Such a large allocation calls for the hiring of prudent managers who also understand the significance of food in the political economy.

Used well, the money can stop the importation of grains that can be grown locally, thus saving Kenya the need to spend scarce dollars on food imports.

Secondly, it can incentivise local production for food self-sufficiency especially given the context of growing urban populations that need  constant supply of food.

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