Brace for costly ugali, millers tell Kenyans

Maize in sacks after drying near Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret on January 23. A 90kg bag of maize now goes for Sh4,800 in the North Rift, Kenya’s bread basket.

Millers and agriculture experts have warned of a crisis that might make the government review the planned importation of 10 million bags of duty-free maize in a bid to lower flour prices.

Experts have decried further increase in maize prices as it emerges that processors are reluctant to import the grain due to rising costs worldwide.

“We are staring at a disaster as maize supply deteriorates. Many farmers sold almost all their grains after harvest, fearing a drop in prices due to the impending imports,” said Mr Ezekiel Kosgei, an Eldoret-based agronomist.

“Large-scale farmers are hoarding maize, pushing prices beyond Sh5,000 per 90kg bag.”

An estimated 4.2 million families, especially in northern Kenya, face starvation.

The Ministry of Agriculture says the country has maize stocks to last less than two months.

Millers and consumers yesterday said the imported maize would do little to reduce the cost of the staple due to challenges in sourcing and crushing.

“As much as we appreciate plans by the government to import maize and cushion consumers against the rising cost, it is too early to determine when the grains arrive in Kenya, considering the shortage in the local and regional markets,” Mr David Maina, a processor in Eldoret, said yesterday.

The millers have urged the government to put in place measures that will cushion consumers from the high cost of flour.

Among their recommendations is allowing yellow maize to be used as human food.

The Ministry of Agriculture says the country has stock of six million bags, which can only last up to the end of March.

A 90kg bag of imported maize is expected to go for Sh6, 000, more pain to the consumer.

“There is need to manage flour prices as there are indications that we might not have enough grain,” said a report following a meeting between President William Ruto and millers two weeks ago.

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has admitted that it has no emergency maize stocks after it failed to purchase the grain this season due to stiff competition from traders and millers.

“We have zero emergency stocks after selling more than 300,000 bags we purchased the previous season on commercial basis. We did not buy the produce last season,” said an NCPB source who did not want to be named.

The board sought Sh10.3 billion in the last financial year for emergency food stocks but millers and traders offered better prices and prompt payment to farmers.

The parastatal was to buy three million bags of maize at Sh7.56 billion and 50,000 bags of beans at Sh405 million for the National Food Reserve.

The government is expected to have four million bags of grains – maize and rice – and beans as emergency stock or cash equivalent to the quantity.

According to Crop Development Principal Secretary, Kello Harsama, licensed traders are expected to avail the maize to enable the country to have sufficient stocks and contain shortages caused by falling yields.

“The severe drought in the last planting season resulted in low harvests. The release of the imported duty-free maize will meet the shortage,” Mr Harsama told the Sunday Nation by phone.

The ministry has allowed businesspeople to import 900,000 tonnes of duty-free white maize and 600,000 tonnes of duty-free milled maize from this month to August.

Millers, however, are reluctant to import the maize.

“A 90kg bag of imported non-genetically modified (GMO) maize will go for Sh6,000, pushing the cost beyond the reach of most consumers,” the millers said in their statement after meeting Dr Ruto.

Kenya produces 30-40 million bags of maize annually, with a deficit of about 10 million being sourced from the East African Community and Comesa member states.

Maize production in 2020 stood at 42.1 million bags, down from 44 million the previous year.

The country’s production in the last five years has averaged 2.8 million tonnes annually.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says the country has imported an average of 295,092 tonnes of maize annually in the last five years.

According to annual reports, yields in the Rift Valley have been declining, with production dropping from 27 million bags to 21 million last season.

Trans Nzoia County, which consumes about two million bags of maize every year, harvested 5.3 million.

Many millers have scaled down operations due to shortages of maize.

Flour prices have risen in most parts of in the North Rift – the country’s food basket.

A 2kg packet is selling for Sh200, with millers expressing fears of further rise.

“Let consumers brace themselves for higher prices as we experience more difficulties sourcing maize,” Mr James Too, another Eldoret miller, said.

Maize prices have skyrocketed in many parts of the North Rift, with a 90kg bag going for Sh4,800, up from Sh4,200 two weeks ago.

An acute shortage of short-term and orphan crops, including sorghum, millet, beans and potatoes has hit western Kenya.

 “Low production due to erratic rainfall has resulted in high demand for short-term crops,” said Ms Jane Jerotich, a resident of Moi’s Bridge.