KENYA – Kenya has finally opened the window for duty-free maize imports aimed at stemming the biting shortage that has seen the price of unga (maize meal) nearly double in the past eight months.

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) yesterday published a notice setting the rules for importation of duty-free yellow and white maize meant to plug the huge deficit in the domestic market.

KRA Commissioner of Customs and Border Control Julius Musyoki said the firms have up to July 31 to ship in the white maize while yellow maize will be allowed in till August 31.

While importation of white maize is open to ‘any person in Kenya,’ the shipping in of yellow maize is restricted to chosen companies, who will ensure it is limited to use as animal feeds.

“Both the yellow and white maize must not be genetically modified and must have a moisture content not exceeding 14.5 per cent. The aflatoxin levels of the white and yellow maize shall not exceed 10 parts per million,” the notice says.

The importers are, however, required to pay the Import Declaration Fund, normally charged at 2.25 per cent of the total cost of the imported goods as well as the 1.5 per cent Railway Development Levy that was introduced two years ago to help pay for the construction of the standard gauge railway.

“Shipments of duty-free yellow and white maize must be accompanied by a Certificate of Conformity issued by a company appointed by the Kenya Bureau of Standards,” the KRA says in the notice.

Treasury secretary Henry Rotich allowed importation of yellow and white maize in accordance with the East African Community Customs Management Act (EACCMA) 2004.

Kenya has been facing an acute shortage of maize, which it has blamed on poor harvest last year as well as hoarding of the commodity by farmers in the wake of low market prices.

The government last month opened a window for the release of one million 90kg bags of white maize at Sh3,000 per bag to help stem the rising cost of maize flour, which had crossed the Sh150 mark for the 2kg packet.

The anticipated relief has, however, failed to materialise, with the price remaining far removed from the target Sh115 per 2kg packet that the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture had set.

Millers, who had dismissed the offer as a drop in the ocean, are said to have largely shunned it, taking only 600,000 bags of the cheaper maize, citing transport logistics as a key impediment.

The decision to ship in cheaper maize is expected to help bring down the price of the staple and ultimately arrest the soaring inflation that hit 11.4 per cent last month, driven by food and non-alcoholic beverages whose prices rose at the highest rate of 21 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The price of maize rose 37 per cent in the past year, unga prices from the Sh103 per 2kg packet in April 2016 to Sh135 in April 2017, according to official data.

Maize production dropped from 42.5 million bags in 2015 to 37.1 million bags in 2016 due to decreased volumes of rainfall, high cost of farm inputs and the effects of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND).

An armyworm invasion on some 8,000 acres of maize crop in the  North Rift, Kenya’s grain basket region, has further complicated the country’s maize production.

May 3, 2017: Business Daily