Kenya plans to import maize from Mexico to ease the current supply shortage that has seen the price of flour hit a five-year high, making it the first time in nine years that East Africa’s largest economy will be buying the staple from outside Africa.
Agriculture secretary Willy Bett said the Kenyan government has been in talks with its Mexican counterpart, who has confirmed the North American nation has enough stocks to supply the export market.
“We have looked around and established that Mexico is the one with sufficient white maize that can meet our needs. We shall be finalising the plans next week and decide the amount and timeline for the shipment,” Mr Bett said, even as he insisted that the consignment will be imported by gazetted millers in order to keep out traders who may want to make a killing from the crisis.
Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said his ministry was working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure all the required documents are in place to facilitate imports.
Maize from outside East Africa is usually subject to import duty but the Treasury can waive the tax, especially in times of emergencies.
Kenya has traditionally imported most of the grains it needs to bridge the deficit from Uganda and Tanzania.
But Tanzania has recently restricted export of maize while Uganda does not have enough supplies for exports, having had a poor harvest last season.
In addition to its two East African neighbours, Kenya has imported maize from Malawi and Zambia, who have also restricted exports in the wake of poor harvest in the past two seasons.
The poor harvests have been associated with harsh weather resulting from La Nina, which hit Southern Africa last year.
The ministries of Devolution, Agriculture and Treasury were last week working on a report that is expected to offer details on the planned importation.
President Uhuru Kenyatta last week received a preliminary report on the drought situation and will be meeting the team on January 27 when the final document is expected to be ready.
An acute shortage of maize in the country has in recent weeks seen the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour rise to more than Sh113 in Nairobi and to highs of Sh121 at Nakumatt supermarkets, up from Sh90 in January last year.
The maize flour price inflation crisis is underlined by the fact that as late as last month a 2kg packet retailed at an average of Sh97, meaning prices have shot up by about 10 per cent in just a month.
Kenya was last hit by a maize flour crisis in 2011 when a 2kg packet retailed at Sh140 in the wake of a serious shortage of maize. This was the highest maize flour price to have been registered in a decade.
Millers said the rapid rise in the price of maize flour was being driven by the fact that a 90kg bag of maize is now selling at Sh3,400 compared to Sh2,800 last year.
The government expects the number of those affected by hunger to rise from 1.5 million last October to two million at the end of this month.
The Treasury plans to release Sh16 billion between February and July in support of those stricken by drought and the millions who are facing starvation.
The government will release Sh9 billion between February and April in the second phase of response to the drought while additional Sh7 billion will be released between May and July.
Speaking last week, Mr Rotich said the Treasury might be forced to restructure the supplementary budget in order to allocate more funds to the fight against drought.
“We are currently monitoring the situation and depending on the situation, we might have to direct more funds towards measures aimed at easing hunger on affected regions,” said Mr Rotich.