Anxiety grips nation as maize imports dwindle

Thursday, June 30th, 2022 11:00 | By

Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers (AKEFEMA) yesterday warned that Kenya is facing an acute shortage of maize.

John Gathogo, the chairman in charge of publicity, said strict rules that Tanzania had imposed on Kenya’s maize imports would worsen the  current shortage.

In recent months, Kenya has been buying supplies from Uganda but it is also experiencing lower than expected harvests, thus reducing the surplus available for export.

Tanzania, another source of maize for Kenya, recently imposed stringent license requirements, including new levies, making it harder to buy the grain from the southern neighbour.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya was at the Kenya-Tanzania border to intervene after trucks were blocked on the Tanzanian side for failing to pay export levies.

While there, he announced that Treasury had approved a 90-day window for duty-free importation of maize starting from tomorrow.

Before his intervention, Tanzania had made it mandatory for maize exporters to apply for special licences, a requirement that made it difficult for Kenyans to buy maize from Tanzania.

“I think they are trying to reduce export of maize to this country,” said Gathongo in an interview with People Daily. “What we are getting is from Malawi and Zambia and a 90-kg bag is landing in Nairobi at a cost of Sh6,000.”

Yellow maize

This is the highest retail price per bag in recent years. The cost has in turn pushed up the retail cost of maize flour, a staple food for Kenyan families and a basic meal in most households.

The high cost of flour has been compounded by a rise in the price of cooking oil, fuel and gas.

In 2017, when the government allowed millers to import yellow maize from Ukraine to mitigate a shortage, the cost per bag reached Sh4,500.

“Now it is Sh6,000 and going up and the maize is not available,” said Gathogo, also an animal feeds miller.

The maize shortage has also led to a decline in animal feeds, of which maize is one of the main ingriedients.

This has led to an increase in the cost of animal feeds, which has in turn has had a ripple effect on the cost of milk and eggs among other food items. It is also likely to hurt the cost of farm fish.

“We have been urging the government to look into this situation, but it is taking time,” he said.

Ukraine conflict

In a Kenya Gazette notice published last month, millers were allowed to import white Non-Genetically Modified maize.

“We petitioned the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Peter Munya on this matter, and there was an amendment sometimes two weeks ago, to allow us to import 99.1 per cent of GM-free maize, which is exactly the European standards, but up to now we have not been able to import even a single grain,” Gathogo said.

The reason, he said, was because millers were given only three months to import, a period Gathogo said was too short.

Subsequently, the industry asked the government to extend the offer for about a year, but it is still waiting for the request to be processed.

Millers had expected to import the grain from Ukraine but the country has been embroiled in a violent conflict with Russia, which has prompted it to ban export of food crops, such as maize and wheat, as well as fertiliser.

“You can’t get any grain,” Gathogo said. “And very soon what we are getting from Malawi and Zambia will fizzle out.”

The association is blaming the shortage on poor policy decisions, saying that the country has been a net importer of maize over the years when it should have aimed at being self-sufficient in the production of maize.

“Last time we produced about 35 million bags against a consumption of about 50 million bags, leaving us with a net deficit every year,” Gathogo said.

To address the shortfall, AKEFEMA has been lobbying the government to issue it with import permits for yellow maize, which can be used to make animal feeds. This will ease demand for white maize.

The price of flour has gone up in recent weeks, hitting a high of Sh220 for a 2kg packet, up from about Sh120 a year ago.

Wa Iria protests

Elsewhere, lobby groups affiliated to Usawa Kwa Wote Party leader Mwangi Wa Iria yesterday held demonstrations in Nairobi  to protest the high cost of flour.

The activists said Kenyans should boycott the August elections if the prices will remain high.

“We will not vote if they don’t address these concerns”, said a demonstrator Julius Kamau.

Early this week, the Murang’a Governor vowed to lead nationwide protests on the high cost of living saying this was more important than the election.

“We know that the government is still paying debts to China but surely how do you pay a foreigner when children are dying of hunger for heaven’s sake?” he asked.

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