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Food shortage now looms as maize stocks near-empty

Kenyans could miss their favourite ugali dish come August when the seven million bags of maize in national stocks are expected to run out.

According to a Ministry of Agriculture May 2015 food security situation report, the national food security continues to remain stable, though food stocks, especially cereals, have been reducing in parts of Central, Eastern, Coast and North Eastern regions as a result of below average harvests over the last two seasons. Expected imports of about one million bags between June and September from the neighbouring countries will raise the stock to 8.2 million bags.

“Assuming a three per cent use on manufacture of feeds and on seed with a national monthly maize consumption of 3.34 million bags, the maize stocks available for food as at end of May would last the country up to the first week of August, hoping that harvesting shall have started by then,” said a researcher at Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Joseph Opiyo.

However, he said, the food situation in the country needs close monitoring to avoid volatility in prices or shortfalls that might threaten the country’s food security since farmers are holding 24 per cent of the available stock.

County directors of agriculture (CDAs) from nine maize-producing regions this week also painted a grim picture of the food situation in the country.

The CDAs, who shared their experiences at a half-day workshop in Nairobi hosted by Tegemeo Institute also attributed poor yields to a number of issues including erratic rainfall and the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND).

Kenya requires about 41 million bags of maize every year to be acknowledged as food sufficient, but the revelations by the CDAs and a survey conducted by Tegemeo Institute in April this year paint a bleak picture.

The assessment was conducted in Uasin Gishu, Trans-Nzoia, Narok, Bungoma, Kakamega, Migori, Nakuru, Nandi and Meru. Opiyo said from the survey’s national outlook, national maize production and yield has been on the decline since 2013 mainly due to rainfall variability and MLND which has led to serious crop losses in some parts of the country.

“Using 2012 as a benchmark, the country registered mixed results in production of major food crops in the last three years. Wheat, maize and cassava production registered net declines by 35, seven and five per cent respectively,” he added.

Opiyo said other factors that are likely to contribute to further decline in yields include inadequate funding of the fertiliser subsidy programme, which could influence commercial prices.

The funds, he added, have often been released late affecting timely delivery of the inputs to the farmers. “The national food security situation is expected to remain stable through June, but shortages are expected in July or early August.

This is because the early harvest that usually comes from the South Rift cannot be relied upon until August since the planting season began later than usual because of the delayed onset of rains,” said Opiyo.

Further monitoring also indicates that MLND has been reported in some parts of South Rift which may also adversely affect the quantities of harvest from the region.

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