Agriculture ministry distances itself from GMO maize imports

Harry Kimtai

 Livestock PS Harry Kimutai third (left), Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor John Barorot (second left) and other guests listen to Andrew Tubei-General Manager of Sololo Agriculture Limited as he explained about avocado seedlings, during the First Kenya National Avocado Conference held at Parachichi Centre in Uasin Gishu County on November 23, 2022. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

The Ministry of Agriculture has distanced itself from the planned importation of 10 million tonnes duty free GMO maize as pressure mounts on Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria to rescind the imports.

It has instead said it is assessing the county’s food situation to determine any deficit before issuing advisory on quantities required to meet the shortfall.

"We have not recommended the quantities of maize to be imported because we are yet to establish the actual deficit. Valuation is ongoing and we shall advise when to import the grains" said Harry Kimtai, Livestock Principal Secretary when he represented Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi during the First National Avocado conference held at Eldoret.

He explained tthat a team from different government agencies were involved in determining the quantity of maize held by farmers in the country.

"Even as we carry out the stocks, there is need for farmers to release the crop into the market instead of hoarding to cause artificial shortages forcing the government to go for other alternatives including importation of the produce,” added Mr Kimtai.

Local farmers

This comes as MPs from President William Ruto’s Rift Valley and Western train their guns on Trade Cabinet Secretary over plans to import the grains when local farmers are harvesting the crop.

The lawmakers on Tuesday demanded that the government freeze the importation of maize into the country until April next year when there is clear deficit of the commodity.

“It seems there is a deliberate move to continue killing the maize farming in the country as was seen in the previous regime where even the sugar sector and other farming sectors were killed. It seems that cartels are now back into business and this time round, they appear more aggressive and ruthless,” said the lawmakers in a statement read by Nandi senator Samson Cherargei.

But PS Kimtai on Wednesday maintained that the importation has not been sanctioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, clear indication that they could be reading from different scripts from the sister ministry.

“In an event the assessment establishes any maize shortage in the country, we shall source the produce from regional market before seeking for the commodity in the global market,” added Mr Kimtai.

He cautioned farmers against hoarding of maize noting that it amounts to economic crimes when over 3 million Kenyans are faced with starvations.

"We want to tell our farmers to release their produce to the market to allow millers to purchase them. Hoarding will distort the market and amounts to economic crime," said the PS

He assured Kenyans on the safety of GM crops for human consumption despite fears that they posed health risks.

"When government lifted the ban, it was informed by science . . . government has done research for the last 14 years to ensure its safety and government cannot endanger the lives of its citizens," added the PS. "When the cabinet banned in 2012, the decision was informed by science which the researcher later disowned. . . We cannot continue to rely on that research." Explained Mr Kimtai.

He explained that GM products were solution to emerging challenges such as climate change and pests. 

"We are faced with challenges of climate change and we need crop tolerant to pests and drought. These varieties lead to increase production since they are tolerant to pests and drought," added the PS.
Most maize farmers in the North Rift region-the country’s food basket are meanwhile  stuck with maize stock worth millions of shillings as controversy rages over government plans to import 10 million bags of duty free GMO maize to lower flour prices.

The disillusioned farmers who are holding thousands of bags of the grains are in panic selling to avert possible losses as leaders from maize growing areas mount pressure to impeach Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria unless the importation scheme is suspended.

Agriculture bureaucrats in the region yesterday confirmed that farmers are holding huge quantities of maize and want the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to open buying centres to mob the grains for commercial and emergency stocks.

But middlemen have flocked the region to purchase the crop at throw away prices as farmers go on panic selling amid fears of influx of cheap grains.

Consequently, maize prices have dropped from Sh5,800 to Sh5,400 as farmers release the crop to market with the CS Kuria claiming farmers were holding over 20 million bags of maize.

Trans Nzoia County realized 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 bumper harvest this season and measures have been put in place to minimize post-harvest losses,” said Phanice Khatundi, CEC in charge of agriculture.

She decried exploitation of farmers by middlemen who have flocked the area to purchase the produce at throw away prices amid fears of import of GMO maize.

“Some of the farmers are still harvesting the crop and there is need to protect them from exploitation from middlemen,” said Ms Katundi.

The Ministry of Agriculture forecasts this season maize harvest to be 20 per cent less than the projected 40 million 90 kgs bags. It is estimated at 32 million bags.

According to annual agriculture reports, Rift Valley has continued to experience low yield with the production declining from 27 million bag to 21 million bags this season.

Uasin Gishu County is projected to harvest about 4.5 million bags of maize this season out of which more than 2.5 million bags will be released to the market.

“Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia counties are to harvest over 10 million bags of maize and plans by the government to import 10 million bags of duty free maize will destabilize local market and subject farmers to losses,” said Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers’ Association (KFA) director.

Interviewed farmers petitioned the government to suspend any importation plans noting that they have sufficient stocks to feed the nation until April next year.

“we still have huge stock of the previous season yield and harvesting of the current crop is ongoing,” said James Songok, from Kerita, Uasin Gishu County.

He has a stock of over 200 bags of the 2021 season while he has harvested over 5,000 bags that is ready for the market.

Kenya’s maize production has fluctuated in the past eight years, with its highest production being in 2018 when it produced 44.6 million bags and the lowest being in 2017 when country only produced 35.4 million bags of the staple food.

The country churned out 40.7 million bags in 2013, 39 million in 2014, 42.5 million in 2015, 37.8 million in 2016, and 39.8 million in 2019, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.