Why Kenya’s maize import plan is facing headwinds


Trucks loaded with imported maize from Tanzania waiting to offload outside Mombasa Maize millers in Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A number of countries have rebuffed maize supply requests from Kenya, making it harder for East Africa’s biggest economy to secure the 10 million bags it needs to plug the shortage of the staple.

Agriculture Ministry Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi told MPs the State has so far imported 1,305 tonnes of the grain and a substantial quantity of flour is expected into the country in the next 10 days.

Mr Linturi told the National Assembly’s Agriculture committee that the country has also imported 43,173 million tonnes of rice and that the price of maize flour is expected to drop once the maize arrives in the country.

“We are further ordering 500,000 metric tonnes of yellow maize and 200,000 metric tonnes of soya beans for livestock feed,” Mr Linturi told lawmakers.

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“These are short-term interventions to address the maize deficit as we prepare for more imports in the near future.”

Mr Linturi said the country is facing difficulties in sourcing maize as some countries had refused to sell their crop for fear of shortage.

“The sad story out there is that some countries are not willing to share maize with us. There is also a serious shortage of maize,” he said.

Mr Linturi said the country has ordered 1.4 million tonnes (10 million bags) of maize and 1.1 million tonnes (six million bags) of rice that is expected into the country any time from now.

“In 10 days, we will have enough rice. The maize will also be available from across the world,” he told the committee chaired by John Mutunga.

Kenya last month ordered the importation of duty-free maize to cushion consumers who are currently grappling with the high cost of the staple on the shelves.

The country was this week expecting the docking of a ship carrying 42,464 tonnes of maize from the Port of Odesa in Ukraine.

Millers, however, say imports will only lower the price if the ships carrying maize consignments will be docking at the port at least every week.

The price of flour has shot to Sh200 for a two-kilogramme packet from Sh180 on the back of a sharp rise in the cost of maize, which now stands at Sh6,100 for a 90-kilogramme bag.

Traders who were issued importing licenses were made to sign a memorandum of understanding with the government committing that the maize will land in the country at Sh4,200 for a 90-kilogramme sack.

The move saw millers withdraw from the import programme as they said it would be difficult to get maize landing in Kenya at the government’s desired price.

The Ministry of Agriculture is scouting for alternatives to lower the cost of flour with top officials visiting Zambia to negotiate a grain deal with the southern African nation.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary and his Principal Secretary Harsama Kellow were in Lusaka a week ago where they held talks with their Zambian counterpart on maize imports and production.

On Wednesday, Mr Linturi asked MPs to help the ministry in sensitising Kenyans on other food crops to cut reliance on maize consumption.

“The country has been experiencing a steady decline in maize production from 42 million bags in 2020 to 36 million bags in 2021 due to poor performance of rains,” he said.

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Mr Linturi said the national annual maize requirement is 52 million bags which includes other uses such as the manufacture of livestock feeds, stock retained as seeds and the manufacture of other products.

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