The rising prices of maize on the international market caused by the unavailability of the cereals as a result of disrupted global production due to the lengthy Ukraine war are expected to delay the arrival of the 10 million bags of duty-free maize that was meant to cushion consumers from the high cost of flour.
The delayed approval of licensed traders and expensive shipping charges are other logistical challenges that will delay the arrival of duty-free maize at the port of Mombasa.
This delay will come as a big relief to local grain farmers who will now enjoy an extended window to sell their produce at attractive rates.
According to the ministry of Agriculture, the 900,000 tonnes or 10 million bags of duty-free maize will not be available this month as earlier planned, to the pain of consumers who will continue to grapple with the high cost of flour.
“We expect the duty-free maize to arrive in the country in early March due to several logistical challenges including delayed approval of traders to bring in the produce,” said Kello Harsama, the Principal Secretary, State Department for Crop Development.
The Ministry of Agriculture has allowed traders to import 900,000 tons of duty-free white maize and 600,000 tons of duty-free milled rice from this month to August.
“(This will) enable the country to have adequate stocks to last until the next harvest from July to August 2023. The duty waiver shall apply to white maize and milled rice imported into the country by August 6, 2023, by millers and traders,” said the State Department for Crop Development in a notice.
The latest global food index for December 2022 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicates an international rise in maize and rice prices by 6.2 per cent due to tighter availability of the commodity and strong demand in Asian exporting countries.
“World maize prices have increased influenced by strong demand for export from Brazil and Paraguay and strong import demand in the European Union. Lowered stocks in Ukraine due to disruption in production are largely behind the change,” stated FAO in the report.
According to agronomists, increased demand for food supplies triggered the rise in global fertilizer prices, piling pressure on local farmers who reduced acreage under production, resulting in low crop yield last season.
“The maize and rice prices are expected to remain volatile due to global market forces of supply and demand,” said Mr Henry Ogola, an import and export expert.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya has imported an average of 295,092 tonnes of maize annually over the past five years.
According to annual agriculture reports, yields in the Rift Valley have been on a decline, with production dropping from 27 million bags to 21 million last season.
The harvesting of maize is still ongoing in parts of the North Rift region with the country projected to realise 30 million bags against an annual consumption of approximately 45 million bags.
Uasin Gishu County is projected to harvest about 4.5 million bags of maize from last season's crop out of which more than 2.5 million bags will be released to the market.
Trans Nzoia County realised an estimated 5.3 million bags of maize while it consumes about 2 million bags with an estimated 3.3 million being released to the market.
“We have sufficient maize stocks following a bumper harvest this season and measures have been put in place to minimize post-harvest losses,” said Phanice Khatundi, Trans Nzoia's CEC in charge of agriculture in an earlier interview.
She decried the exploitation of farmers by middlemen who have flocked to the area to purchase the produce at throw-away prices amid fears of the release of import duty-free maize to the market.
“Some of the farmers are still harvesting the crop and there is a need to protect them from exploitation from middlemen,” said Ms Katundi.
Maize prices have plummeted in the North Rift region, the country’s food basket, with a 90-kilogram bag going for Sh4,600, down from Sh5,200 and the rates are expected to decline further as the millers are reluctant to purchase the staple due to limited storage space.
“We have not exhausted our stocks despite the expiry of the February timeline before the arrival of imported duty-free maize. The situation has been complicated by the fact that some millers are now reluctant to buy the produce,” said Thomas Bowen, a farmer from Uasin Gishu County.
The farmers petitioned Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi to tour the region and asses the quantities still in the stores.
“Millers’ stores are flooded with maize and some are reluctant to purchase our grains. It is unfortunate that our leaders are reluctant to advocate for our welfare,” said Isaac Malongo, a farmer in Lugari, Kakamega County.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) has, however, purchased 30,000 bags of maize worth Sh84.9 million as farmers rush to deliver the produce to the board due to prompt payment.
The board targets to purchase 60,000 bags of 50kg bags of maize on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) as the country faces a shortage in most households.
Most millers and middlemen have opted to purchase the produce at the farm gate level at Sh4,200 per 90kg bag as compared to Sh2,830 per 50-kilogram bag offered by the government agency.
“We target to purchase 60,000 bags of 50-kilogram bag of maize under the WFP deal mainly at our Eldoret depot and payment is made within 24 hours of delivery,” Titus Maiyo, NCPB corporate communications manager.
He asked farmers to take advantage of the pact.
A spot check at the NCPB Eldoret depot indicated long queues of farmers delivering the produce.
“The attractive prices offered by WFP and prompt payment have motivated farmers to deliver the grains to our depot,” said Gilbert Rotich, NCPB North Rift manager.
The skyrocketing maize prices locked out the NCPB from purchasing the crop this season.