Farmers have called on the government to import maize to address biting scarcity as prices rise to over Sh6,200 per 90-kg bag in parts of North Rift, the country’s grain basket.
Even after the government directed farmers to dispose of their harvests as early as November last year after announcing the planned importation of products from February, there are no indications of any imports as the price of the staple food shoots through the roof by the day.
Trade Cabinet Secretary (CS) Moses Kuria, in December last year, gave farmers a 72-hour ultimatum to sell their maize harvests, saying imports would hit the market.
The announcement, then, sparked off protests from local maize farmers and Rift Valley leaders who said decisions to import maize be shelved until local farmers conclude harvesting and selling their produce.
They argued that any imports to the country would cause a glut in the market, disadvantaging farmers who spent heavily on production costs during the season that saw fertiliser prices soar to as high as over Sh6,500 per 50 kg bag.
It was a reprieve when Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi intervened and announced that farmers could sell their produce until February when imports would be allowed in the market.
But as farmers prepare for the start of the next season this March, there is no indication of imported produce even as traders and small-scale millers scramble for the little available maize from a few farmers who still have stocks, but selling at over Sh6,200 at door steps.
They said the government needs to allow maize imports and give a subsidy to millers to make maize flour affordable to consumers. A section of farmers also accuses the government of allegedly causing rushed decisions among farmers to dispose of their produce, without allowing them to do a market survey before selling their produce immediately after harvest.
“When the government asked farmers to mop up their produce and sell them following CS Kuria’s 72-hour ultimatum, the majority of farmers sold it at as low as Sh4,000 per 90 kg bag of maize. We are now surprised prices have hit Sh6,200,” said Benjamin Tanui, a farmer from Soy in Uasin Gishu County.
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Tanui said most farmers have by now disposed of their stocks and urged the government to speed up importation processes to address the shortages that would adversely affect consumers.
“The government should take urgent steps to allow the importation of produce and salvage the country from an imminent food crisis, that could also be a security threat,” said Tanui. Donald Sang, a farmer from Kuinet, also in Uasin Gishu County said the State had announced plans to allow maize imports to bridge the gap, but to date, there is none.
“We urge the government to allow imports to assist consumers access affordable staple food. There are food shortages in Turkana, Samburu and other Northern Kenya counties and families will not afford current prices of maize at Sh6,200 per bag,” said Sang. Sang said the agricultural department lacks proper statistics on the country’s food situation and challenged county directors of agriculture to carry out effective projections on planting acreages, expected harvests, and the country’s needs and shortages for good planning.
“The government seem to lack proper statistics on the country’s food situation. There is a need for officials to advise on projections farmers can produce in a season and advise on shortages. As the government plan to import, it should be done cautiously so that it does not affect the market of the crop planted for the current season,” Sang said.
Dinah Bor, a farmer who also runs a posho mill at Kuinet recalls that after last season’s harvest, grain price was lower before gradually rising to Sh5,400 per bag to over Sh6,200 currently. “There is a looming food shortage unless the government allows maize imports. Consumers buy a kilogramme tin of maize at between Sh80 and Sh90,” said Bor.