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Lack of clarity over maize stock puzzling

Kenyans are once again faced with the prospect of high food prices as government agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring the country is food secure continue to disagree over the quantities of  maize to be imported and even if at all.

Food stocks are constant worry as most farmers plant late following delayed rains, with threat of fall army-worms invasion ever looming and adding to the pressure. Since 2017, when the country faced a prolonged severe drought, food shortage concerns have persisted.

As a matter of fact, for decades, the country has not had a sound plan to ensure we are food secure because virtually every other year, the government has to import food to supplement local produce.

For the better part of this year, Kenya has suffered another blow as long rains were delayed for two months and the subsequent precipitation was inadequate.

In 2018, the country received comparatively better rains resulting to bumper harvest of maize — 46 million bags — the highest in several years, although still below the consumption of 52 million bags annually.   This year, analysts say due to harsh weather conditions there is likely to be a 30 per cent drop in maize output.    

The drought was also experienced in other segments of the region thus compounding our case as Kenya supplements food deficit with imports from neighbouring countries. Owing to dwindling food stocks, prices have been rising steeply, a sign that if there is no intervention, prices could hit the roof sooner rather than later.

The current maize flour prices range from Sh110 to Sh123, with most common brands retailing at an average of Sh122 while the prevailing average price of maize per bag currently stands at Sh3,340 in local markets.  

Government attempt to purchase two million bags of maize as part of strengthening the strategic food reserve early this year did not, however, succeed as expected as only 417,000 bags were bought. This increased the stocks at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores to 4.17 million bags and the same has been in the stores as at early June.

While the Ministry of Agriculture says the country needs 12.5 million bags annually, no agreement on the exact quantity has been arrived at, raising fears of high maize flour prices and commercial animal feeds. 

The discord between the ministry and NCPB over the distribution of maize to millers has also led to delayed release of stock to millers leading to escalation of flour prices by 46 per cent, raising  fears of acute shortages and soaring prices.

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