Plan to import Zambian maize to Kenya in limbo

Saturday July 1 2017

Workers load maize at the port of Mombasa. Kenya seeks to import the grain from Zambia. PHOTO | LABAN WALOGA

Workers load maize at the port of Mombasa. Kenya seeks to import the grain from Zambia. PHOTO | LABAN WALOGA 

By ALLAN OLINGO
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Kenya’s efforts to import maize from Zambia through Tanzania are now at risk due to a trade dispute between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Kenya said it was talking with Dar es Salaam to open its border for the maize from Zambia just a day after President John Magufuli administration banned the grain’s exports — to protect its limited stocks.

Last week, the two countries effected exports ban on several products, further escalating their trade differences.

“The current trade differences that have seen several goods banned from trading across-borders by both countries has now complicated these negotiations,” a senior Kenyan government official told The EastAfrican.

“It is our hope that they will consider our request to allow for the maize we are trying to import from Zambia,” the source added.

On Monday, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa banned grain exports to rein in the rising local prices, while also encouraging local processing of the cereals into flour.

“From today onwards, it is strictly prohibited for anyone to export food crops. The move is aimed at encouraging the construction of food processing industries in the country. Anyone who is arrested trying to smuggle food out of the country will have both his consignment and the vehicle used in the smuggling operation nationalised,” Mr Majaliwa said.

Kenya’s Director of Crops at Ministry of Agriculture Johnson Irungu had earlier said that the country was in talks with Dar to allow for the passage of the grains.

“Our Foreign Affairs Ministry is in talks with Tanzania to allow maize coming in from Zambia to pass through their country,” said Dr Irungu.

While Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Ministry declined to divulge details of the talks, it is understood that Nairobi had tasked its diplomats in Dar to secure permission for the cereals to pass through the country.

Longer route

Zambia had agreed to sell to Kenya 55,000 tonnes of white maize, with its Finance Minister Felix Mutati on Tuesday saying that they will open talks with Kenyan and grain traders for the export of maize.

“This week we will be having colleagues from Kenya interested in maize imports. The biggest challenge is how we get this maize to Kenya at a competitive price. This year we produced about 3.6 million tonnes of maize and had a surplus of 1.4 million tonnes, which was available for export,” Mr Mutati said.

If Dar es Salaam remains adamant, Kenya will be forced to use a longer route through Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The other possible longer route would be through Malawi, which has an export ban, through to Mozambique and to Mombasa via the Indian Ocean.

Kenya is suffering from an acute shortage of grain following a poor harvest last year resulting from erratic rains experienced during the planting season in 2016. The country normally imports grain from Uganda and Tanzania to plug the deficit. Last year, Tanzania exported more than 1.5 million tonnes of cereals to neighbours.

However, it is also facing shortages of its own despite producing around three million tonnes of surplus food in the 2015/16 harvest season, blaming it on unregulated exports that has affected food reserves.

In its previous shortages, Kenya relied on Malawi and Zambia. The two countries had also banned export of the grain but Zambia just lifted the ban last month to allow for the sale of its surplus, after production rose to 3.61 million tonnes in 2016/2017 from 2.87 million the previous season.

Uganda harvest

Last month, Kenya turned to Uganda, importing more than 45,000 tonnes as at Friday, totalling $26.3 million, data from the Regional Agriculture Trade Intelligence Network (RATIN) shows.

A November 2016 Uganda analysis by the United Nations food agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed that the country was expected to have a projected harvest of 3.4 million tonnes in 2016, with a surplus of 200,000 bags, which was expected to be available for exports to neighbouring countries including Kenya, South Sudan and Rwanda.

These imports by Kenya, however, seems to be too slow to demand, as the country has managed to import a total of 158,000 tonnes, against a monthly consumption of 270,000 tonnes.

Last month, Nairobi imported a consignment of 30,000 metric tonnes of maize from Mexico via South Africa, in a bid to reduce the price of maize, its staple food, which had reached a high of $1.8 for a two kilogramme packet.

Kenya has introduced $60 subsidy meant to lower the price of a 90 kg bag of maize to $23 from the current $40, allowing the 2kg packet of flour to sell for $0.9.