Millers warn of maize shortage amid standoff over importation
Kenyans are once again waiting anxiously to see whether they will soon enjoy their cheap ugali as the government, millers and retailers face off over maize imports.
The government has waived import duty on maize, rice and sugar in its latest bid to tame the price of essential food items that have gotten out reach for many Kenyans.
It is, however, yet to gazette traders, millers and other businesses interested in the importation of 10 million bags of maize to supplement dwindling local stocks, according to millers and large-scale farmers who spoke to Business Hub.
They said Agriculture ministry is yet to share information on when the importation plan is expected to kick off.
“Ministry of Agriculture is yet to gazette the list of value chain players allowed to import maize into the country. This might complicate the situation going forward,” Kennedy Nyagah, chairman of United Grain Maize Millers (UGMA) said.
Currently, Nyagah who spoke to Business Hub on phone warned, the delay in maize importation might complicate the food situation in the country as local stock will soon be depleted.
“Most of the farmers in the country have sold their maize as prices have been high, especially the whole of last year,” he added.
When reached for comment, Principal Secretary at State Department for Crop Development Kello Harsama agreed that the gazettement was delayed as millers and traders demanded to be allowed to import maize and sell at a cost of between Sh5,500 and Sh6,000 for a 90kg bag. He however, said the ministry has issued letters to willing traders and millers and in the next two weeks maize will be in the country.
“The government position is to have imported maize sold locally at Sh4,200 for a 90 kg bag. We have set the price based on the fact that taxes for the same have been waived so that the consumer can also benefit,” said Harsama. He added the licensed traders are expected to import maize to guarantee the country sufficient stocks.
A source at the Agriculture ministry who did not want to be quoted intimated that the majority of value chain players who wanted to import maize declined to participate as the government wanted them to bring maize at a cost of Sh4,200 which is way below the current price in the market.
National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u gazetted the duty-free importation of 900,000 tonnes of white maize grain, 600,000 tonnes of milled rice, and 100,000 tonnes of sugar, maize and rice on December 23, 2022. He said the importation of the various food categories was due to the country’s current sugar shortage and impending food crisis. Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi was to make follow up of the move by gazetting the list of traders and millers interested in maize imports this month.
Even though there was much hope of bumper harvest from the main crop season ending soon, large-scale farmers from Rift Valley region complained that the quantities have not been sufficient. Charles Boit, a large-scale farmer said over the years, farmers have been reducing acreage owing to high cost of production coupled with local market flooding with imports.
“Over the years, farmers have been grappling with climate change effects, high cost and lack of fertiliser, lack and high cost of seeds and government allowing imports which to some extent has been affecting local prices,” he said on phone.