Millers protest short notice from Kenya govt allowing maize imports

Wednesday May 13 2020

Maize imports.

Grain imports from neighbouring countries have slowed down because of Covid-19 and the entire national maize stock in Kenya’s strategic grain reserves is contaminated. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PAULINE KAIRU
By PAULINE KAIRU
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Even as Kenya faces a looming maize shortage, big millers say the time frame given to them by the government to import the produce is impractical.

The Gazette notice granting millers a licence to import came out on April 20 and only allows importation before May 30.

“No miller is able to import maize into the country within the permitted window, which expires on May 30,” said Nicholas Hutchinson, group CEO of Unga Ltd, speaking to The EastAfrican in a phone interview on May 6, adding, “the timelines are just unrealistic.”

According to Paloma Fernandes, CEO of Cereal Millers Association, a body that brings together Kenya’s maize millers, two vessels were meant to ship maize to Kenya from Topolobampo, Mexico, but one contract has been cancelled with losses amounting to close to $1 million, while the other one will be diverted to another destination, as it can’t get to the country before the deadline.

She said that the average time it takes to order and deliver from Mexico — the only source of white maize meeting GM-free per EU standards currently — is between 60 and 70 days. Ms Fernandes said the association’s request for an extension of the deadline to September 30 was rejected.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya told the Senate Agriculture Committee that the need for maize imports was necessitated by the contamination of the entire national maize stock in the strategic grain reserves with aflatoxin.

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The government said it has permitted millers to import about two million bags of white maize for human consumption and an extra two million bags of yellow maize for animal feeds at 14 per cent and 10 per cent duty respectively.

“Grain imports from neighbouring countries have slowed down because of the current pandemic and we have asked the private sector to import to bridge the anticipated gaps,” Agriculture PS Prof Hamadi Boga said in an interview on May 6.

Mwangi Wainaina, CEO of Mama Maize Millers, said the price of maize flour will likely go up in three weeks’ time. “Kenyans should brace for a biting shortage and for the price of unga to go up in the next three weeks,” he warned.

“We’ve written letters asking the government to extend the deadline, but these have been ignored. The millers will have to pass the duty cost to the consumer,” warned Ken Nyaga, the vice chairperson of United Grain Millers — a coalition of millers.     

It is unclear what will happen in the meantime given that the next harvest in Kenya is expected in September.

Kenya’s PS for devolution Charles Sunkuli, who is also chairing the command centre for relief food distribution to flood victims, said more than 1.3 million Kenyans were already relying on the government for food aid.

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