Suspicious 10, 000 tonnes of maize at Mombasa port to be tested - Government

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria. The maize came into the country just days after the Ministry of Agriculture distanced itself from the planned importation of the controversial 10 million tonnes duty-free of Genetically Modified (GM) maize announced by CS Kuria.

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

The government will check the suitability of the maize in a ship that has docked at the port of Mombasa before it is released to Kenyans. 

The assurance by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) comes amid safety concerns that the maize is suspected to be contaminated and therefore unfit for human or animal consumption. 
Details in our possession show that the MV African Merlin Voy:01/22 docked at the port of Mombasa on November 21, 2022, carrying unknown tonnes of maize donated to the country to help deal with the hunger crisis. 

The maize, coming in at a time Kenyans in various parts of the country are facing starvation due to prolonged drought, is said to be heavily infested with weevils and is contaminated with aflatoxin, making it unfit for human or animal consumption. 

Mozambique cargo

Initially, the details of the origin of the maize were scanty but Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) Communications manager Catherine Muraguri told Nation that the maize had come from Mozambique. However, she did not confirm whether the maize is safe for human consumption. 

“It is not us (Kephis) who handle the human health function. That is a function of other relevant government agencies,” said Ms Muraguri and referred us to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and Port Health Services under the Ministry of Health. 

“We at Kephis only deal with pests and diseases,” she added. 

Aflatoxin is caused by high moisture content in stored cereals. Cereals can also acquire moisture in the high seas during transportation. 
It is not clear whether the maize had met the relevant moisture levels before it was shipped into the country as a donation. 

The East African Community in which Kenya is a member, sets a maximum of 13.5 per cent moisture content.  
When contacted yesterday, Kebs Managing Director and Council Secretary Lt. Col. (Rtd) Bernard Njiraini told the Nation that he had not been given the cargo manifest even as he dispelled any fears surrounding the maize. 

“It should not be a cause for any alarm. It shall eventually be tested and if it meets the standards, it will be released to the market. If it’s found unfit for human or animal use, it will be destroyed,” said Mr Njiraini as he promised to get more details about the cargo. 

“We usually check the suitability against the standards we have on contaminants. In this case, we shall seek to establish if the cargo has the certificate of compliance and if it doesn’t have, we shall test it,” Mr Njiraini said. 
Yesterday, an officer at the KPA, who did not want to go on the record because he is not authorised to speak for the parastatal, told Nation that the maize will undergo all the required tests before it is made available to Kenyans. 

“But even as the tests await, no relevant state body has confirmed if it is contaminated,” the KPA official said. 
The maize came into the country just days after the Ministry of Agriculture distanced itself from the planned importation of the controversial 10 million tonnes duty-free of Genetically Modified (GM) maize announced by Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria.

Yet to establish deficit

Livestock Principal Secretary Harry Kimtai, while representing the Agriculture Cabinet secretary at a recent event in Eldoret, said the government had not recommended the quantities of maize to be imported “because we are yet to establish the actual deficit”. 

The maize crisis in the country has become almost routine in spite of the government's self-proclaimed commitment to address food insecurity. 

In 2020, the government allowed local private millers to import four million bags of maize in spite of a court order over safety concerns of the maize to be shipped into the country. 

In the same year, the government allowed the importation, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) destroyed 124,625 bags of maize worth about Sh320 million that was contaminated with aflatoxin.

The importation of two million bags of white maize and two million others of yellow maize by the private millers to supplement local supplies and ensure that food prices remain stable was through a gazette notice of 3234 of April 20, 2020. 

The Ministry of Agriculture defended the importation saying it was necessitated by a lack of enough maize stock in the country’s Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) as the government left market forces to be in play.

Kenya consumes at least 4.25 million bags a month, meaning that it requires in excess of 50 million bags of the commodity a year to feed the country. 

The 2021/22 depressed long and short rains resulted in the production of about 40 million 90kg bags of maize, a decline from the 43.5 million bags produced the previous year.