Kenya's food imports bill rises fastest in four years


Maize produce in a store in Uasin Gishu on March 11, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Kenya’s food imports’ bill in the first nine months grew fastest since 2017 driven by a rise in the food products shipped by industries for processing before selling in the local market.

The latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that the food import bill rose 21 percent to Sh155.42 billion from Sh128.06 billion in 2020.

The data shows that imports of food products drove the increase as industries sourced more for value-addition before selling in the local market.

This is the fastest growth in the food import bill in the first nine months since a 60 percent jump posted in the same period in 2016 when the bill stood at Sh82.83 billion.

Retailers link the jump to the growing popularity of online trading that has increased direct ordering and shipping of food and a deficiency in condiments — used to add flavour or colour to food like barbecue sauce, compound butter, teriyaki sauce.

“There has been a rise in online trading that has now made it possible for people to source varieties that are not available locally and bring them. It is also cheaper to get most of the products abroad than locally,” Wambui Mbarire, CEO of Retail Trade Association of Kenya (Retrak).

“The deficiency of general food condiments that include sauces, meat sauce, mint sauce and prepared mustard has also driven the imports,”

Last year’s food import bill was Sh22.82 billion more than the amount spent in the first nine months of 2017 when a biting drought hurt crop and fodder production.

The food crisis in 2017 prompted the Treasury to allow subsidies and waiver of import duties for a smooth purchase of key food items such as maize, rice and milk powder from abroad.

The data shows that food imports for industrial use rose to Sh31.66 billion last September from Sh21.87 billion in January.

Overall the import bill for primary foods and beverages by households and industries grew to Sh35.55 billion in September from Sh26.13 billion at the start of last year.

The record food import bill also came as a ravaging drought put about 2.1 million Kenyans at risk of starvation at the back of poor and delayed rains, especially in the coastal and northeastern counties.

Kenya recorded poor rains in March and May last year prompting the United Nations to warn of a looming crisis.

The UN had said that Kenya needed an estimated Sh9.4 billion to mitigate the drought between July and November last year.

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