State retreats on maize imports for three months
Farmers can heave a sigh of relief after the government yesterday suspended any importation of maize until February next year.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said the ministry had recommended to the Cabinet that the three-month period for the importation of 900,000 metric tonnes or 10 million bags of duty-free maize by registered millers commences on February 1 to April 30, 2023 to fill the national deficit and avert an impending crisis from April.
Recommendation was forwarded to the Cabinet early this month, meaning the three-month ban on any maize imports lapses on February 1.
The CS directed that in the interim period, millers will be required to purchase maize only from local farmers.
“Registered millers should continue to import wheat under the prevailing 10 per cent duty remissions scheme, and rice at prevailing duty rates to complement maize supplies,” Linturi said in a statement read by Leader of Majority Kimani Ichungwa.
Linturi said his ministry, through a Cabinet Memo, requested the Cabinet to lift the ban and approve importation of Genetically Modified (GM) maize for consumption, and in the long term, allow cultivation of its varieties.
He said the government plans to allow maize importation from the region and facilitate further inflows from outside the East African Community and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa regions. “Another Cabinet Memo has been prepared to seek approval to import maize duty free to improve availability and accessibility in good time to evade a hunger crisis in mid-2023.
Linturi had on Monday distanced himself from a statement by his Trade counterpart Moses Kuria on importation of GM maize.
Linturi, who had kept off the debate for some time, said on Monday that he was not aware of any plans to ship into the country GM corn.
“I am the custodian of the ministry and am not ready to answer to what is being reported in social media,” he said.
His position contradicts earlier sentiments by Kuria that the government would import GMO maize to cushion Kenyans from hunger.
While defending the decision to rely on GMO, Kuria has been adamant that the maize is not dangerous as claimed by some people.
“Being in this country, you are a candidate for death and because there are many things competing for death, there is nothing wrong with adding GMOs to that list,” Kuria said.
However, Linturi maintained that in case of food shortage, his ministry would be guided by stakeholders to make the right decision.
“I want to give you a position that I am ready to defend. I need to have statistics before I can give a comprehensive report on the national food status,’’ Linturi said.
Linturi’s clarification on the issue came after Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said the matter of maize importation should be left to the Agriculture ministry. “This issue of importation of maize should be guided by a survey from the Ministry of Agriculture which will find out if there is a deficit of grain. That is a policy that must be well elected. It is the Agriculture docket that will issue an importation order after looking at the food situation,” Mudavadi said.
The Agriculture CS revealed he had advised farmers to ignore the 72-hour ultimatum given earlier by Kuria to off load maize in their stores.
Linturi told farmers they are at liberty to sell their produce any time they wished and no one has authority to command them. “You (farmers) are free to sell your maize any time you wish without anyone giving you a timeline. What you should know is that when selling you should spare some stock for your own consumption,” he said.
Kuria, while issuing the ultimatum, blamed farmers for starving the country by hoarding maize in expectation of an increase in price.
“Those who have maize and don’t want to release it, it is up to them. The Cabinet will sit and if we are given a way forward, we will do the necessary on the importation and so you have like 72 hours to release the maize,” Kuria stated.