The government will be forced to import maize if farmers continue to hoard their produce and demand high prices, the National Assembly Committee on Agriculture has warned.
Committee chairman Adan Ali said growers have refused to part with maize in the hope of making more money.
“If farmers continue to hoard their produce with prospects of making more money, then importation of maize under the current situation is inevitable,” Mr Ali told the Sunday Nation in an interview.
He said the local market is offering better prices than the government, thus farmers are avoiding the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
But farmers have vowed to oppose any bid to import maize.
Producers under the Cereal Growers Association said importation of duty-free maize will jeopardise food security as well as increase the cost of farming.
“Our government seems to show more preference to foreign farmers than its own. We still have maize in our stores which we would like it to buy instead of importing,” said the association’s chairman, Mr Farnie Kruger.
The farmers also accused the government of hatching a plot to import maize from Mexico through some listed traders.
But the Agriculture committee said the government, through the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR), has only managed to purchase 417, 000, 90kg bags of maize from farmers vis-à-vis a target of two million bags.
The two million bags target was set by President Kenyatta in January when he ordered NCPB to buy maize from farmers at a cost of Sh2,500 per 90kg bag.
Although long queues were witnessed at NCPB depots immediately the President made the announcement, they later diminished after the long rains failed.
According to Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, they have tried to convince farmers to deliver maize to NCPB depots in vain.
“I personally asked those with more than 400 bags to sell to NCPB but the situation at the depots has not improved,” added Mr Kiunjuri.
The CS said NCPB failed to meet its target of buying two million bags owing to better prices offered by the market and the worsening drought in the country.
The CS also refuted claims that the government has already listed some traders to import maize from Mexico. However, the CS reiterated that he has a responsibility to ensure that Kenyans are protected from escalating flour prices, whether caused by hoarding or by maize shortage.
He stated further that the country is safe because there is little maize trickling in from Tanzania and Ethiopia.
The chairman of the Strategic Food Reserve Fund, Mr Noah Wekesa, said they would only import when it is necessary.
“We must make sure we don’t repeat the same blunder we made last year. We will only import when the right time comes and also avoid interfering with this year’s harvest,” he told the Sunday Nation in a telephone interview.
Mr Wekesa said millers are already aware there will be maize shortage and are rushing to buy the commodity at higher prices from local farmers.
The Agriculture committee said prices per bag have already risen due to supply hitches as demand increases from millers.
“The price of unga on the shelves will certainly rise to levels we feel will be unaffordable to the common mwananchi. Something has to be done quickly,” noted Mr Ali.
The price of unga in retail shops has started to skyrocket to the current Sh115 and above for the 2kg packet.
The country consumes 52 million 90kg bags annually while last year’s production was 44 million bags.
Stocks at the NCPB deports stand at 1.5 million bags after the ministry of Agriculture released 2.6 million bags to millers last week at Sh2,300 per 90kg each.
The move is meant to cushion consumers from being exploited by retailers.
While addressing millers in his office, Mr Kiunjuri asked them to ensure the price of unga is lowered to about Sh90 per 2kg packet.
Large-scale millers under the Cereal Millers Association will receive 50 per cent (1.1 million 90kg bags) while small-scale millers under United Grain Millers Association will get 35 per cent (674,000 bags) from the cereals board.
Other micro millers like posho mills will receive 15 per cent while schools and other government institutions will get 500,000 bags.
CMA has a milling capacity of 6, 597 tonnes per day, while small-scale millers have a milling capacity of 4,200 tonnes per day. The CS explained that maize has a 24-month safe storage period which is fast expiring.