Ordinarily, government agencies pull in the same direction. More so if they are housed by the same ministry. Such agencies might clash privately but show a unified front in public.
It is, however, not the case for the Ministry of Agriculture, whose Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri publicly sparred with an agency under his ministry - the Strategic Food Reserve on the state of maize in the country.
Kiunjuri is pushing for the importation of maize, arguing that the country does not have adequate reserves on the back of late rains. The Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund Chairperson Dr Noah Wekesa, however, argues that the reserves, as well as the expected harvests, offer adequate supplies for the country.
Dr Wekesa, a former minister in the Kibaki regime went ahead to sensationally claim that the shortages that have resulted in a spike in the price of maize flour are artificial, with ‘cartels’ pushing the Government to open the window for imports. His claims inadequacies are based on certain calculations and assumptions that might be wrong. He further claimed that Kenyans consume 1.5 million bags of maize every month.
According to the Economic Survey 2019 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the country consumed 44.6 million bags of maize last year, translating to a per month consumption of 3.7 million bags.
If you remove what is processed as animal feeds, lost during post-harvest processes or used as seed, this reduces it to the consumption of about three million bags, which is more than double what Wekesa claims is the amount of maize consumed monthly. Also notable is that Wekesa was making the pronouncements while flanked by politicians who asked the State to set aside cash for the purchase of maize from farmers. CS Kiunjuri, on the other hand, appears not to be in touch with the field officers in his ministry.
He cannot tell the country how much maize the strategic reserves have or how much will be harvested during any given season, including this one, where factors such as the late onset of the long rains, were at play. He has not told the country how the ministry arrived at the figure of 12.5 million bags that need to be imported to bridge the needs gap.
The CS also appears oblivious of past instances where the Government has hastily opened up maize import windows and even accorded the importer’s duty waivers only for such manoeuvres to benefit importers at the expense of Kenyans besides denying Government taxes. While reacting to Dr Wekesa’s assertions, Mr Kiunjuri was more concerned about how he should be accorded respect as CS while noting that he has the final word on the food situation in the country.
Lost on him, perhaps, is that the country is discussing importing a staple food owing to his ministry’s failure to ensure that Kenya is food secure and that people have died of starvation on his watch.