Increased flow of maize into the country has created a logistical nightmare at the Port of Mombasa even as traders scale up volumes to cash in on the duty waiver.
Last week, for instance, the port received nearly 6,000 metric tonnes of maize packed in bags and another 23,756 tonnes in bulk consignment.
Logistics agencies at the port have given priority to clearance of maize as the government moves to address the current flour shortage.
The decision taken by agencies such as the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service has affected transportation of other commodities.
Trains, seen as alternative means of transport, still haul just about five per cent of the port’s cargo.
Last week, the port received 60,430 tonnes of wheat, more than 50,000 tonnes of clinker, more than 21,000 tonnes of coal and over 4,000 tonnes of fertiliser which also need to be transported to the hinterland.
KPA said the move to give maize priority has temporarily reduced the number of trucks available for other commodities by 72 per cent, from the ideal 2,500, in 24 hours to approximately 700 trucks.
The agency said the prevailing situation had particularly affected the handling of wheat.
“At the moment, the port is handling both wheat and maize. However, the priority for the trucks is still maize,” the KPA said in a written response to our queries.
The agency noted that the current situation has led to an “abnormal” influx of grains as nearly all millers are importing the commodity in large quantities following the extension of duty waiver.
“Ultimately, we shall experience a heavy reduction of importation once the situation normalises,” KPA said.
Millers last week said the rising cost of wheat flour was occasioned by low supply from the port as most of the produce was being held up over delays in offloading the ships.
Delay comes with an indirect cost as traders are charged an extra fee (demurrage) that is passed on to consumers.
The retail price for a two-kilo packet of wheat flour is Sh133 for Exe brand from Sh120 in May, Golden Sh129 from Sh122 with Jimbi selling at Sh135 currently.
Certain brands are missing in some supermarkets.
The Treasury has extended the duty waiver on imported yellow and white maize to increase supply of the staple.
The extension, which is contained in the Special Issue of the gazette notice signed by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, will see millers enjoy the waiver on white maize for three more months with yellow maize enjoying a window of one year exemption from duty.
The port also blames the delays on torrential rains in April, which grounded the handling of grains as ships could not discharge grains for seven days continuously thus extending the usual two-day turnaround period per ship.
The weather-related delay, noted KPA, led to a build-up of vessels, which in turn led to a ripple effect on grain and conventional discharge by increasing the turnaround to a five-day period per ship in the subsequent months of May and June.
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The Interagency Committee where KPA is a member has urged millers and traders to provide more trucks to ease offtake from the port.
KPA said it is making “maximum and effective use” of its resources including dedicating berths number seven and 13 in addition to the traditional three and four for handling of grains.
“Kenya Railways, through the Standard Gauge Railway in close liaison with Grain Bulk Handling Limited, has now dedicated a train every day for transportation of at least 100 containers of grains from the Port to Nairobi,” added KPA.