Even before the dust settles on the long queues of farmers delivering maize to the cereals board, yet another stand-off is evident over flooding of the market with grain from Uganda.
They are now blaming free market forces, saying middlemen and millers are taking advantage of the East Africa Community (EAC) common market protocol to import maize from Uganda yet there are adequate local supplies.
Shrewd traders purchase the harvest at prices as low as Sh1,800 per 90kg bag at the border, blend it with local produce and sell it at a much higher profit margin.
This is said to have angered Ugandan authorities, who feel that the influx of their maize into Kenya will expose the country to a maize shortage and subsequent food insecurity.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is offering Sh3,200 per 90kg bag of maize, up from Sh3,000 last year while the crop is going at Sh2,800 at the farm gate level.
Data from cross-border trade over the past three weeks indicates that Kenya has increased its maize imports from Uganda, owing to rising grain prices following post harvest losses.
During the period, Kenya has received close to 3,000 tonnes from Uganda despite local farmers harvesting their produce between November and December.
Data from the Regional Agricultural Trade Intelligence Network (Ratin), run by the Eastern African Grain Council which monitors real-time cross-border grain trade, shows that an average 700 tonnes of maize crossed into Kenya from Uganda every day last week, with some influential people being involved.
For instance, by Friday last week, Busia border had recorded 881 tonnes, Malaba 4.14 tonnes and Lwakhakha 12 tonnes of imported maize from Uganda.
“We want them to prioritise local maize and ensure prompt payment for delivered maize. The last time payment was made was early November,” said Mr Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) director.
The projected shortage of maize grain in the local market is occasioned by a combination of erratic rainfall and the fall armyworm invasion, which destroyed hectares of the crop in various parts of the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture had projected that this season’s maize harvest would drop by 20 per cent of the expected 40 million 90kg bags.
Farmer David Kipchumba said there was a need for more incentives to lower the cost of production and boost agriculture since most farmers had incurred high costs due to the armyworm, drought and prolonged rains.
“We want the high cost of production to be addressed through provision of quality seeds that are drought tolerant and resistant to Maize Necrosis Lethal disease and armyworm,” he said.
Mr Wilson Koech from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County, said: “The cost of maize production in Uganda is less since little or no fertiliser is applied, compared with our case.”
According to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, Kenya will not stop maize imports from Uganda as the two countries have signed the East African trade protocol.
Mr Bett said that business between Kenya and Uganda would move seamlessly as long as the goods meet the required standard.
“We are not supposed to stop maize from coming in; we are a bloc, we are East African Community and we have signed a protocol. We challenge our farmers to be more competitive in crops production to remain relevant in the market,” said Mr Bett.
He added: “But the crops from Uganda are more competitive than ours and this should challenge our farmers.”
Cereal farmers in the North Rift region are piling pressure on the government to regulate importation of low-priced maize from EAC member states after harvest of the crop in Kenya.
“We respect the EAC common market protocol, but the government should cushion us from unfair competition by cheap, subsidised maize,” said Mr Joshua Kolongey from Suam, Trans-Nzoia County.
They claimed most maize from Uganda enters the country through the porous Suam border point, destabilising local market prices.
Maize prices in the North region, the country’s grain basket, have plummeted from Sh3,800 to Sh2,300 in the past one month owing to excess produce from Uganda.
NCPB data indicates that the board has bought 1.6 million bags of 90kg maize estimated at Sh2.6 billion by Tuesday last week.
The board has put in place stringent measures to weed out farmers who delay delivery of maize to NCPB stores to profit from the Sh3,200 offered per 90kg up, from Sh3,000 last year.
“We are experiencing steady delivery of maize to our depots as more farmers continue to harvest the crop,” said Mr Titus Maiyo, the board’s Corporate Affairs Manager.
“Policy inspectors have been deployed to our buying centres to vet and ensure that the imported, subsidised maize from neighbouring countries do not end up in our stores,” added the official.