Tanzania will not be selling maize grains to Kenya as earlier announced, but as flour, President John Magufuli said this past week in Dar es Salaam when he received a delegation from Nairobi that was returning gold and cash stolen from the country.
Maize trade was part of bilateral deals agreed on during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Tanzania earlier this month. This latest pronouncement will help cool tempers that had been stoked by delays in clearing maize consignments at the Holili-Taveta border crossing, with Tanzanian traders accusing Kenyan authorities of laxity.
This past week, truck drivers delivering maize from Tanzania also said they were stranded in Kenya's coastal city Mombasa with their consignment as millers were reluctant to buy the grain.
Already, President Magufuli has ordered the military to buy maize from farmers for milling.
“We have grains in stock that are as old as one-and-a- half years. We shall allow Kenyans to choose the best, then process it at competitive rates and assist in transporting the flour,” said the permanent secretary in Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture Mathew Mtigumwe.
Tanzania’s decision to ship in processed maize now puts a spin in the maize politics in Kenya, after the government opened a window to allow millers and traders to import 12.5 million bags to cover a shortfall.
Earlier, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri had said that Kenya would need maize from mid-August to October, before the harvest, and next year between April and July.
Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said that Kenya needs 4.3 million bags of maize a month from which about 1.5 million bags are milled. The rest is sent to schools as food.
Prof Boga said Kenya needs both the grain and flour, terming the decision by Tanzania to mill the flour as “a high-level diplomatic issue whose details will be out in due course,” after a meeting with President Uhuru.
He however added that while it would hurt local millers, importing flour would lock out cartels in Kenya’s maize trade who dictate the prices.
According to Subiri Obwogo, a Kenyan agricultural analyst, Tanzania pulled a smart move by choosing to value-add their commodity.
“I can bet that Tanzania will not sell the flour cheaply. This is not charity but a business venture.”
Maize importation business is an emotive subject in Kenya.
Mr Kiunjuri’s announcement in April that the maize gap needed to be bridged was greeted with disgruntlement in many quarters, with members of parliament, the national Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund Chairman Dr Noah Wekesa and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga claiming that there was enough food in the country and that importation was choreographed by “cartels.”