Maize imports drop amid rise in Kenya’s overall import bill

Kenya National Cereals and Produce board employee offloads maize consignment at the Donholm silos. [Edward Kiplimo/Standard]

Kenya’s overall import bill continued to rise last year even as imports of key grains dropped significantly.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ (KNBS) Economic Survey, the country’s balance of trade dropped by 5.2 per cent, with total exports decreasing by 2.9 per cent, while imports shot by 2.4 per cent, underlying the country’s status a net importer of key commodities.

Kenya’s annual import bill stands at about Sh1.76 trillion, with China accounting for about 21 per cent of imports.

Interestingly, maize farmers’ push against the continued importation of the crucial grain appears to have paid off, with imports falling by more than half from 529,600 tonnes in 2018 to 228,800 tonnes last year.

The statistician attributed this development to the increase in domestic production of the commodity.

The country also saw a reduction in rice imports by 2.1 per cent, with the country spending Sh25.1 billion on the grain last year.

Conversely, however, imports on most other commodities rose significantly.

For instance, sugar, molasses and honey imports increased by 53.6 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

And even as coffee farmers continued to complain about not getting value for the product, the country last year exported 448,000 tonnes of the commodity, up from 447,000 previously

Earnings from unroasted coffee exports, however, went down by 12.1 per cent to Sh20.3 billion last year.

The decline in earnings was as a result of the drop in prices in the international market by 19.7 per cent, with the product selling at Sh417.7 per kilo.

Tea exports, on the other hand, posted a decline for the second year in a row, with sales falling 5.6 per cent.

Prices at the international market fell by 13.7 per cent to sell at Sh 238.8 per kilo.

The manufacturing industry also took a hit, with some key exports such as cement also registering drops.

The country’s cement exports, for example, fell by more than a half from 1.4 million tonnes in 2018 to 617,000 tonnes last year, while the quantities of iron and steel exports increased by 35.2 per cent to 149,300 tonnes.

Export earnings from titanium ores and concentrates and leather declined from Sh15.4 billion and Sh4.4 billion in 2018 respectively to Sh13.9 billion and Sh2.9 billion last year.

The livestock industry had a good year, though, registering a 69.1 per cent increase in the export of hides and skins, with a kilo selling at Sh91.5 last year compared to Sh 54.1 in 2018.

The country exports more food and beverages with the sector accounting for 44.2 per cent of total domestic export earnings.