Kenya is seeking to limit Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda from exporting maize to other countries at its expense in fresh efforts to curb the surge in maize flour prices, ease inflation and the squeeze on household budgets.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya says the country has opened talks with the three countries to guarantee Kenya a share of the maize export to plug the shortfall in supplies.
Crop failure due to poor weather and a shift in the movement of Uganda maize to South Sudan have seen flour prices rocket to a record high of Ksh210 ($1.78) for a two-kilo packet, up from Ksh120 ($1.02) at the start of the year.
This has triggered a rally in inflation to a 58-month high of 7.9 percent and forced families to skip meals and cut orders for other items like airtime and beer.
Now, Kenya is seeking a solution from neighbouring countries to boost supply ahead of the harvest season that starts in October.
“We are now talking to these countries to have them set aside some stocks of maize to be purchased by our traders to boost supply locally,” said Mr Munya.
Zambia has started harvesting its main crop while Tanzania and Uganda have surpluses that Kenya is seeking to tap.
Kenya traditionally receives imports from Uganda and Tanzania, but trade flows in the grain have shifted to other countries.
The bulk of Ugandan maize is now heading to South Sudan, encouraged by higher prices in the country relative to Kenya where a 90-kilo bag is selling at Ksh7,000 ($59.27) from Ksh2,800 ($23.71) in January.
Countries in the region are competing for a limited white maize stock for both human consumption and manufacturing of animal feeds following disruption in the supply of the grain from Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the ongoing war between these two countries.
Mr Munya also said the government would intervene in logistical challenges faced by business people in shipping the produce, which has seen the cost of transport more than double.
A 90-kilo bag of maize is selling at around Ksh3,000 ($25.40) in Zambia but it gets to Kenya at Ksh6,000 ($50.80) because of the high cost of transport and other levies involved in the shipment.
Transporters are charging Ksh1,500 ($12.70) for a single bag of maize from either Malawi or Zambia from Ksh600 previously, pushing the landing cost of a 90-kilo bag to Ksh6,000 ($50.80) when it gets to Nairobi.
The announcement comes just days after millers asked the State to open direct government talks with the regional countries to have them set aside some stocks of maize for Kenya.
The Tanzanian government last month doubled the cost of export permits by 93 percent. The authorities increased the cost of acquiring the licence from Ksh27,000 ($228.62) per truck previously to Ksh52,000 ($440.30) currently, according to border officials.
The Treasury opened the import window in May to allow millers to bring in maize from outside of Africa duty-free. However, the processors said they could not ship the commodity because of scarcity and high prices in the international market.
The government was banking on imports from outside of Africa to curb the soaring cost of flour, which has been steadily rising since April this year.
Reporting by Gerald Andae and first published by Business Daily.
$1 = Ksh118.10