KENYA – The Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board has issued an advisory for importation of two million bags of white maize before May to curb a possible flour crisis following projections that stocks will run out by April.
Chairman of the Board Noah Wekesa said the food agency had written to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is expected to come up with a cabinet memo on the importation.
According to a report by Business Daily, the move will see the board import two million bags of white maize and an additional two million of yellow ones to be used for processing of animal feeds.
“We do not have any reserves at the moment and we would like the government to move with speed to allow imports and curb a possible crisis, that is why we have written to our parent ministry requesting it to allow imports,” said Dr Wekesa.
Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga confirmed they had received the letter from the board and that he would discuss the issue with his Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.
“This requires a decision to be made by the Cabinet and I will have discussions with the CS over the issue,” said Prof Boga.
The PS said a food security committee that moved round the country assessing the stocks said it can only last up to the end of April. Maize coming outside the East African Customs Union is subjected to a 50 percent duty. The Treasury normally scraps the tax in the event of imports to allow in the produce at a cheaper cost.
The board clashed with the Ministry of Agriculture last year when the latter wanted to import maize as a precautionary measure for the expected shortage.
The importation of maize was a contentious issue between the board and the Agriculture ministry. Whereas the board wanted importation of 2.5 million bags before they rescinded the matter, the ministry stated a figure of 12.5 million bags to be shipped in, leading to a standoff. The ministry had made elaborate plans to import 11.1 million bags of maize from Mexico to bridge the deficit.
Kilimo House had announced in March last year that Kenya would run out of maize at the end of July and wanted the country to ship in grain from Mexico before the situation could get out of hand.
The pressure saw then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri change his mind on imports from Mexico, saying maize would be procured from regional countries such as Malawi and Zambia, which have been a major source of the grain in times of shortages.
Kenya might not be lucky to get stocks from these countries this year as it is also grappling with a shortage, with Tanzania, which is about to start harvesting expected to sell its crop to its southern neighbours.
In 2017, the government was accused of stage-managing a crisis by ignoring all warning of an impending shortage only to flood the market with the staple when local farmers were harvesting, causing them great losses.
Even as the board advices on the importation, it could open another round of war between the government and farmers over grains who claim the imports compete unfairly in terms of pricing in the market.
In other related news, the government plans to merge the National Cereals and Produce Board-NCPB with the Strategic Food Reserve in a restructuring programme aimed at improving efficiency.
The merging will entail the Strategic Grain Reserve becoming a department under NCPB. In addition, NCPB facilities will undergo a revamp to increase capacity that will allow farmers and private millers to store their cereals at a fee.
In the long run, this will ensure food security, in line with the government’s Big Four Agenda.
This follows concerns that the Strategic Grain Reserve and the National Cereals and Produce Board were performing duplicating roles.