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Economy

Sh1.8bn rotten maize stocks deepen Kenya’s food crisis

Maize delivered at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPBP) Eldoret depot: Report says that maize stock, valued at Sh1.8 billion and stored in NCPB depots, has been damaged by weevils to an extent that it is not fit for human consumption. PHOTO | FILE
Maize delivered at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPBP) Eldoret depot: Report says that maize stock, valued at Sh1.8 billion and stored in NCPB depots, has been damaged by weevils to an extent that it is not fit for human consumption. PHOTO | FILE 

More than 754,000 bags of maize held in the national Strategic Grain Reserve is unfit for human consumption, deepening the food security crisis as the country grapples with a severe drought that has left more than 1.3 million facing starvation.

Auditor-General Edward Ouko says in a newly released report that the maize stock, valued at Sh1.8 billion and stored in the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots, has been damaged by weevils to an extent that it is not fit for human consumption.

The report says that the 754,015 bags of maize are damaged beyond the 2.5 per cent quality control limit and are therefore “obsolete and unfit stock.”

“Records maintained at various NCPB depots, the custodian of strategic grain on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, indicate that some strategic maize has been infested by weevils and damaged beyond human consumption,” Mr Ouko says in the audit report for the Strategic Grain Reserve Fund.

Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale on Tuesday tabled in the House the report covering the year to June 2015.

Mr Ouko says in the report that the weevils appeared to have developed resistance to Celphos, the NCPB’s preferred fumigation chemical, hence the massive destruction of the produce in the board’s silos and depots.

“A review of quality assurance reports revealed that Celphos, the board’s preferred fumigation chemical, has failed to kill the weevils and is therefore no longer effective. The insects appear to have developed immunity against the chemical,” the report says.

Mr Ouko faulted the NCPB board of management for failing to come up with an alternative to Celphos despite most depots requesting for a change in the chemical used.

The government, through the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, has issued a hunger alert and named Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Makueni, Kitui, Samburu and Kajiado counties as most affected. 

Mr Ouko’s report came soon after the government announced that it was holding 731,000 bags in the strategic food reserve.

Kenya consumes some 3.2 million bags of maize per month translating to approximately 40 million bags annually.

The NCPB in July released one million bags of maize from the NCPB to millers in an attempt to slow down the steady rise in the price of maize flour. The intervention has helped keep the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour relatively stable at Sh100.

While releasing an update on the hunger situation, Agriculture minister Willy Bett insisted that Kenya’s overall food security situation remains stable and should get even better with the ongoing harvesting of maize in the bread basket region of the North Rift.

It is expected that this year’s crop will add up to 34 million bags of maize to the national stocks. Mr Bett said that an additional seven million bags of maize is expected from the short rains crop, taking the total output at par with annual consumption.

Kenya is estimated to have 9.5 million bags of maize, most of it held by households.

“With regards to the strategic food reserves, the NCPB holds 731,000 bags of maize and 548 metric tons of powdered milk together with cash equivalent to purchase additional two million bags,” Mr Bett said.

The minister said the NCPB would soon commence buying of maize from farmers to increase strategic reserve stocks. Other than maize, the strategic grain stores also have 1.2 million bags of beans, 2.3 million bags of wheat and about one million bags of rice.

Mr Bett said rice harvesting in major irrigation schemes, which is expected to begin in November, plus the short rains crop would further boost the food security situation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is banking on the expected stocks combined with those of other staples such as Irish potato, sorghum, millet and cassava to take the country through to June 2017.

The Ministry of Agriculture has commenced re-distribution of maize from high production areas to those that are facing shortage to address the imbalance.

Poor rains impacted negatively on crop production and resulted in a severe drought covering 23 arid and semi-arid counties.

The food shortage in counties such as Isiolo, Garissa, Marsabit, Wajir, Tana River, Samburu and Turkana has been worsened by resource-based conflicts.

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