Before you vote: the truth about maize yields

Maize plants affected by the fall armyworm at Kinyoro in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County on April 08, 2017. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“The highest yield in the history of maize growing in Kenya was in 2015 when we harvested 42.5 million bags of maize ….,” Deputy President William Ruto in Webuye on May 14.

The Deputy President conflated yield, which refers to the maize harvested per unit area of land cultivated, and production, which is the amount of maize harvested. Both are important measures of output.

Kenya did produce 42.5 million bags of maize in 2015 and according to a Nation Newsplex review of cereal production data going back to 1960, it remains a record harvest.

The second highest harvest was 41.9 million bags in 2012 and the third highest was 40.7 million bags in 2013 while the fourth highest production was 39 million bags in 2014.

But last year’s maize production declined by 13 per cent to 37.1 million bags. It was the fifth highest harvest, according to the data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). The drop in production was blamed on insufficient rains during the short rains period in 2016.

Despite the significant drop in maize production and warnings of impending drought, Kenya exported 3,191 tonnes of the grain or 35,456 bags, which was almost a two-thirds increase from the 2015 exports when maize production peaked.

At the same time maize imports reduced by more than two-thirds from 480.1 thousand tonnes or 6.1 million bags in 2015 to 148.6 thousand tonnes or 1.7 million bags in 2016.

In 2014, the government announced a plan to broaden its strategic food reserves to include non-cereal foods such as milk to improve Kenya’s food security and to beef up the strategic grain reserves stock to eight million bags.


But mid last year while appearing before the Public Investment Committee, National Cereals Produce Board (NCPB) Managing Director Newton Keter revealed that some of the maize stocks had been in storage for over eight years, which is beyond the two-year period that is recommended. Mr Keter said 400,000 bags of maize out of the 2.7 million in the government stores were discoloured.

Over the five decades, yields have changed little, even as the volume of maize production and the area under cultivation and harvested expanded. In 1961 the maize yield in kg per hectare was 125,330 and in 2014 it was 166,020, indicates data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

According to FAO, Qatar’s maize yield, which was the best in the world in 2014 was nearly 36 times Kenya’s. This gap shows the advantages of irrigation over rain-fed agriculture.

A USAID report from 2015 stated that Kenya could achieve self-sufficiency in maize without increasing the area under the crop, through modest yield increases and reducing postharvest loss.

From 1961- 1979, maize production oscillated between 10.4 and 19.5 million bags, according to data from the KNBS and FAO. Between 1980 and 2010 the range improved to between 22 million and 32 million bags.

From 2010 and 2016 it fluctuated between 33.4 and 42.9 million bags.

The 2015 figure quoted by the Deputy President is true, but some context is necessary.


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