The Government might be forced to import animal feed to cushion the country against a possible maize crisis as manufacturers compete for dwindling reserves of the commodity.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said the ministry is seriously considering the move to ease pressure on the country’s maize supplies, with animal feed manufacturers, who use maize as a raw material, said to be starving the market of the commodity for human consumption.
Maize is Kenya’s staple food, with most of it consumed in form of ugali made from maize flour.
While insisting that the situation was dire mainly owing to the current biting drought in the country, the CS, however, did not indicate when or how many tonnes of animal feed the Government might import.
“The first thing we might have to do is to import animal feed. You know there is competition for maize for animal feed manufacturing and human consumption,” said Mr Bett in a phone interview.
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In an earlier interview with our sister publication Business Beat, millers sounded the alarm about the intense competition for maize between animals and humans.
“Based on production capacity or utilisation estimates from Akefema (Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers) and our own assessment of the market size/maize utilisation in the various livestock diets, we estimate something around four million bags of maize are used per year in the production of animal feed,” said Cereal Millers Association Chairman Nick Hutchinson. It is, however, not possible to account for the exact number of informal animal feed manufacturers.
Official figures show Kenyans consume about one million bags of maize in 10 days. Mr Bett said they might consider importing yellow maize, but only for animal feed manufacturing.
Mr Hutchinson said CMA welcomes the importation of yellow maize, but not already processed animal feed.
In the 2016/17 financial year, the Government exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT), all materials used in the manufacture of animal feed in a move that was aimed at making the product affordable to farmers and attract more manufacturers to invest in the sector.
However, as the effects of drought take a toll on prices of food products, particularly maize, the Government is left with no choice, but to import the commodity.
The CS said importing animal feed would ensure that whatever maize is left in the country is used for human consumption alone.
“We are very reluctant to import, but when the situation calls for it, then we will,” he said.
Livestock, said Mr Bett, are suffering the most because of the ongoing drought as vegetation cover has been wiped out and rivers dried up.
“Looking at the food situation, we are definitely on top of things, but now it is livestock which are facing serious challenges,” he said.
The CS also claimed the current food shortage might be artificial as some farmers are allegedly hoarding maize.
“We really believe some farmers are hoarding maize,” he said.
The effect of farmers hoarding maize has seen the supply of the cereal shrink, driving up its price beyond the reach of many ordinary Kenyans.
A bag of 2kg maize flour in most retail outlets is currently goring for Sh126, about Sh20 more than it was retailing in December.
Dr Dennis Otieno, an agricultural economist at the Egerton University-based Tegemeo Institute of Agriculture said it is normal for farmers to hoard maize in anticipation of a rise in prices, especially during the electioneering period.
His sentiments were backed by the University of Nairobi economics lecturer XN Iraki.
“We can’t rule out some speculation because of elections, but that seems a lesser problem,” he said.
However, the ongoing drought, which results from poor short rains in the months of October and November, has played a key role in the general rise in prices of basic foodstuff, including maize flour, milk, tomatoes, cooking oil, onions and sukuma wiki (kales).
The prices of the commodities has risen sharply over the last two months, making life unbearable for ordinary consumers who toil just to put food on the table.
And with the drought ravaging the whole of the region, Uganda and Tanzania which supply the country with maize to fill up the deficit do not have the surplus to export.