Why you are still paying dearly to put ugali on table


 A man salvages ugali at Yaya Centre in Nairobi on August 2,2018.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Consumers are the biggest losers as the prices of maize continue to rise even as it emerged yesterday that will take long for the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to buy the grains due to the high costs of the commodity.

The prices have stabilised at Sh5,400 up from Sh4,800 after the government suspended the importation of 10 million bags for six months to allow farmers to sell their produce.

“The prices have remained stable as farmers continue to enjoy attractive prices after panic selling following the 72-hour deadline issued earlier but the move was rescinded,” said Kenya Farmers Association official Kipkorir Menjo .

President William Ruto reversed the decision to give farmers priority to sell their produce before releasing imported maize into the market.

The Head of State said the ongoing harvesting of maize across the country is set to yield about 30 million bags against an annual consumption of approximately 45 million bags.

But NCPB yesterday maintained that they are still waiting for direction from the government on whether it will purchase maize for emergency stocks this season.

“We are yet to buy maize from farmers due to high prices of the crop in the market,” said a senior official who requested not to be named.

NCPB bought 530,000 bags of maize worth Sh1.43 billion on commercial basis last season, offering Sh2,700 per bag. The maize prices have hit Sh5,400 per 90-kilogramme bag due to anticipated low yields this season.

Last season, farmers in the region had to contend with high production costs precipitated by high fuel and fertiliser prices after the government failed to subsidise the cost of farm inputs.

Early last month, Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria announced the government had made the tough call to allow duty-free importation of 10 million bags of genetically modified maize over the next six months to address a biting food crisis as millions risk starvation.

However, the announcement was met with a backlash from different quarters, with MPs from President Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard and others from Western region training their guns on Mr Kuria over the plans. The lawmakers demanded that the government freeze the importation of maize into the country until April next year when there is a clear deficit of the commodity.

A spot check by the Nation indicated maize farmers in Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Lugari are harvesting the crop amid calls by the government for them to release the produce to the market.

“It is too early for the government to determine accurate shortage of the staple considering that harvesting is ongoing,” said Mr Julius Too in Sergoit, Uasin Gishu County. The Ministry of Agriculture forecasts this season’s maize harvest to be 20 per cent less than the projected 40 million 90-kilo bags. It is estimated at 32 million bags.

According to annual agriculture reports, Rift Valley has continued to experience low yields, with the production declining from 27 million 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 Mr Menjo.

Farmers who spoke to the Nation urged the government to suspend any importation plans, noting that they have sufficient stocks to feed the country until April next year.

“We still have huge stocks of the previous season’s yields and harvesting of the current crop is ongoing,” said Mr James Songok in Kerita, Uasin Gishu County.

He said 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 the country produced 35.4 million bags of the grain.

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.