Flour crisis as maize harvest at 8-year low

A maize crop attacked by the Fall Armyworm in Nyaribari Chache, Kisii County. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A maize crop attacked by the Fall Armyworm in Nyaribari Chache, Kisii County. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Maize production will drop to an eight-year low this year as erratic weather and armyworm attacks cut production by nine million bags, setting the stage for expensive flour next year.

The government announced yesterday that the armyworm invasion, which has affected major maize-growing zones in the country, will cut production by five per cent with the poor weather reducing a further 20 per cent.

Production is forecast to drop to 28 million bags from last year’s 37 million, pointing to a worse food crisis next year compared to the ongoing maize crunch should Kenya not consider early imports.

This will be the lowest maize produce since 2009 when the harvest was at 21 million bags, and translates to lower earnings for farmers.


“The armyworms will cut the yield by five per cent while the absence of rain, which has affected the development of grain in most parts of the North Rift, will contribute 20 per cent of the expected losses,” said Agriculture secretary Willy Bett.

Kenya requires about 40 million bags of maize to be food secure. This will mark the second year in a row that production of the staple has declined

The price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour jumped by nearly half to Sh150 in April from a similar period last year, prompting the introduction of a Sh6 billion subsidy which lowered the cost to Sh90.

The Agriculture ministry said the grain basket counties of Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia have been hit by shortage of rain at a critical stage when the maize crop requires water for grain development.

Maize in the North Rift has reached the tussling stage where the cob requires water to allow grain growth.

The erratic rain comes as the region smarts from the crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms that ravaged parts of the North Rift, especially Trans-Nzoia.

The pest threatens production at a time when Kenya is battling effects of the drought which has pushed the cost of maize flour and other foods to record levels and driven up inflation to a five-year high of 11.70 per cent in May from 11.48 per cent in April.

Inflation eased to 9.8 per cent last month. Prices of food have become a political headache for President Uhuru Kenyatta as he seeks a second term in the August elections.

Kenya has become a maize-deficit country and relies on imports. It plans to import 2.9 million bags of maize in June and subsidise up to about five million bags until harvest time.