Kenya has in the past month imported its largest consignment of maize from Uganda, comprising more than 35,000 tonnes worth $20.6 million.
This, however, falls short of the 27,000 tonnes needed to feed the nation monthly, and so some 75,000 tonnes of maize arrived in Mombasa as part of the government’s efforts to deal with the maize flour shortage.
Data from the Regional Agriculture Trade Intelligence Network (RATIN) shows that the country has recently imported more than 10,000 tonnes of maize.
A maize shortage has hit the country in the past few months, a situation that has forced retailers to limit purchases per person. Buyers are only allowed two two-kilogramme packets of maize flour at retail outlets. This has, however, not helped meet demand, even with the importation of 150,000 tonnes in June.
Last month, Kenya imported 30,000 tonnes of maize from Mexico via South Africa in an effort to reduce the price of maize flour, which had reached a high of $1.8 for a 2kg packet.
The government is banking on the cheap maize, under its $60 subsidy meant to lower the price of a 90kg bag to $23 from the current $40, allowing the 2kg packet of flour to retail at $0.9.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said that the government is putting in place several distribution channels to ensure that the imported maize reaches every part of the country.
He added that another ship carrying 74,646 tonnes of maize is expected to dock at the port of Mombasa later June.
Mr Bett added that they will use the newly launched standard gauge railway cargo wagons, the Rift Valley Railways and trucks to distribute the consignment.
However, the Cereal Millers Association said that the steady availability of the $0.9 maize flour is dependent on supply of imported maize to ease the shortages being witnessed on shop shelves following inadequate supply from the government stores.
Kenyans consume about three million bags monthly and millers say the imports are inadequate.
Common market policy
Maize production in the Rift Valley, the country’s food basket, declined from 1.89 million tonnes to 1.4 million tonnes last season due to various factors ranging from erratic rainfall to disease outbreaks.
The country has seen its maize production volumes fall from a high of 3.6 million tonnes in 2012 to 1.83 million tonnes last year, blamed on insufficient rainfall.
Kenya needs at least 2.9 million tonnes to be food secure, leaving a deficit of 810,000 tonnes. Its monthly consumption stands at 270,000 tonnes.
But according to the Mr Bett, shortages of maize in Kenya could have been easily addressed through the Common Market policy across the region that saw Tanzania and Uganda, in previous years, come to the rescue of the country.
“Unfortunately, this year, myriad factors prevented this from happening. Tanzania banned exports of maize last September, and we saw humanitarian organisations offer better prices to Uganda for the maize en route to South Sudan, where there was famine,” Mr Bett said.
Millers’ association chairman Nick Hutchinson said that it has been been receiving limited supplies from Tanzania, which has helped keep the stock prices stable, after Dar limited exports of the produce last September.
“This is the highest price in the past five years and the tightening supply of maize in the market is not really helping the shelf cost,” Mr Hutchinson said.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek), however, opposes the subsidies, saying they hurt maize farmers while enriching a few importers.
“These subsidies only address short-term needs while scuttling long-term plans of empowering farmers to grow enough maize for consumption and sale.
The programme is costly as unscrupulous businesspeople repackage the subsidised maize flour for profit,” Cofek secretary-general Stephen Mutoro said.
The maize from Uganda is being purchased at $589.39 per tonne by Kenyan businessmen. Bujumbura, in Burundi still remains the region’s most expensive market for maize, trading at $72 for a 90-kg bag of maize, data from RATIN shows.
A November 2016 Uganda analysis by the UN food agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation showed that it was expected to 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.