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Government opens doors to maize imports as stocks shrink

The government will allow millers and traders to import 12.5million bags of maize for production of flour and commercial animal feeds.

In an interview last week, Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said that current quantities in the country’s granaries are not sufficient to feed citizens beyond June.

“Declining stocks demand importation of 12.5 million bags for human and animal consumption. To ensure the country is safe, importations must be done between July and December this year, quantities that will be supplemented by harvests from South Rift and parts of Western Kenya in the next four months,” he said.

Out of the total maize imports, 10 million bags will be for human consumption while 2.5 million bags will be used to manufacture animal feeds.

Unlike before when the government subsidised maize at Sh2,300, Kiunjuri said that this time round the ministry will only allow millers and traders to import maize enough to feed the country.

“I have urged various government agencies charged with taming corruption to thoroughly check on the importation,” said Kiunjuri.

In 2017 the ministry imported more than five million bags under a Sh6 billion maize subsidy programme.

Kiunjuri said that since the beginning of the year, he has been updating various government organs including the Cabinet on the current food situation and the need to import more to stem likely high food prices.

The CS warns that if the country fails to import maize soon, the prize of unga will skyrocket occasioned by dwindling supplies. Currently, the local market has been benefiting from duty free maize supplies from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

Organic maize

But, Kiunjuri said that of late intra-trade in the region has been declining forcing the country to look to Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine to replenish its stocks.  The government has, however, instructed millers to only import non-genetically modified maize.

Maize imported outside Comesa attracts an import duty of 50 per cent of the import price. “We are yet to decide on whether to waive the duty or lower the levy, but we will iron out this soon,” he added.

Manufacturers of animal feeds under their umbrella body Association of Kenya Feed Manufactures (Akefema) last week warned that the government needs to hasten importation of maize from various global markets.

“Some international market segments such as Ukraine have less than one month before they clear their silos which are currently holding white maize as they prepare to harvest wheat,” said Akefema secretary general Martin Kinoti.

It takes between 45 days and 60 days to import maize outside the Comesa. This therefore, means that if the government is to sanction importation of maize today, the earliest traders and millers can ship in their first consignment is July 24.

According to Kiunjuri the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depots are holding  slightly more than four million bags of maize.

If the entire stock is released into the market to stabilise prices and by the time imports arrive in the country flour prices will have shot to above Sh130 for the 2-kilogramme packet.

Two months ago, Kiunjuri, after meeting millers, NCPB, the Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board (SFR) and senior ministry officials, agreed to release 3.5 million bags of maize to tame high prices.

But NCPB was supposed to release two million bags first at Sh2,300 per 90 kilogramme bag for flour production and Sh1,600 for livestock feeds manufacturing.

Cost of production

The government had planned to purchase two million bags from farmers but as at early April this year NCPB had only been able to buy 417,000 bags at Sh2, 500.

Farmers protested the price saying the same cannot even meet their cost of production. Instead they started selling their supply to traders and millers and even exporting the stock to various markets within the region.

Despite the country producing 44 million bags last year, the highest ever output, consumers have not benefited from low flour prices except between December last year and March this year.

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