Maize farmers will lose an estimated Sh23 billion worth of grain due to poor post-harvest handling, bringing to question the country’s ability to improve its food security.
Farmers are ill-equipped to control post-harvest losses as they lack driers and proper storage facilities when the harvesting season coincides with the rains, like is the case at the moment, exposing the produce to dangerous aflatoxin.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that growers will lose 7.4 million bags of maize, which is an equivalent of 20 per cent of the projected harvest of 37 million bags this year.
“We are estimating 20 per cent post-harvest losses this year because of the ongoing rains, especially in the North Rift region where harvesting is going on,” said Mr Bett.
Wet weather is a major cause of aflatoxin in maize, as farmers find it hard to dry the grain.
The decline in stocks means that the county will be set for another round of maize imports next year to keep flour price low.
Research by Tegemeo Institute of Policy reveals that the country will have to import maize as early as April next year to bridge a four-month deficit.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) says the maize that farmers are currently supplying to NCPB has high moisture content, up to 20 per cent, which is way above the required minimum of 13.5 per cent for safe storage.
The government has offered to dry maize for free for farmers who sell the produce to NCPB. Normally, NCPB charges Sh34 for every drop of moisture in a 90kg bag of maize.
The NCPB is targeting to buy 2.3 million bags of maize from farmers to replenish the strategic grain reserve (SFR), after it released nearly all its stocks to millers this year to curb the rising cost of flour that had hit a record Sh153 for a 2kg packet.
The SFR is currently holding less than a million bags of maize, mainly imports, after the government cleared off its stocks this year following a serious shortage of the crop.
On May 16, the government announced a Sh6 billion subsidy on maize imports and removed duty on imported grain to help lower the cost of flour, which had shot up due to regional drought and poor planning.
Tegemeo, in a recent report on the food status, notes that neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania, which Kenya relies on to bridge the deficit, do not have enough stocks. The country will, therefore, have to import maize from outside the region.
“We have looked at projected yields in neighbouring countries and they, too, are not enough, implying that we should be looking to import the produce from outside the region,” said the report by Tegemeo Institute.
Tanzania has placed a ban on maize exports as it guards its limited stocks.