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Kenya backtracks on maize import ban as traders protest

Maize crops being harvested at a farm at Kipkenyo village in Uasin Gishu county. Continued rains have affected the maize crop as most of it has rotten before being harvested. [PHOTO BY: KEVIN TUNOI]

Kenyan authorities yesterday backtracked on the maize import ban from Uganda and Tanzania after traders protested the move in what was seen as an attempt to avert a full-blown trade war with the neighbouring countries.

In what contradicted an earlier directive by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said the issue had been taken out of context.

He said the directive was meant to safeguard consumers through tightening of safety measures and not a blanket ban on maize imports from the region.

“So when we regulate imports, we are putting in place safety measures. Even the food we produce must be subjected to processes that conform with public health and food safety standards,” said Munya.

He was speaking during the launch of a report on cotton and pyrethrum in Nairobi.

On Friday, AFA Acting Director General Kello Harsama wrote to Kenya Revenue Authority’s Commissioner of Customs Pamela Ahago, notifying her of the decision to ban importation of maize from the two EAC countries over claims it is contaminated with aflatoxin.

AFA, which is responsible for regulating, developing and promoting scheduled crops, said it had been conducting surveillance on the safety of food imports into the country.

Munya said it was not possible to stop trade between the East African countries because they have established protocols, laws and the East African Treaty that created one market for the region.

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He however noted there has to be set fair rules and protocols to protect the public and consumers within and outside the country. Through the Ugandan chapter of the National Cross-Border Traders Association (NCBTA), Ugandan traders also want all cargo from Kenya stopped.

This came as regional traders, stuck with thousands of tonnes of maize for three days now at the Malaba border, lamented that they risk losing their livelihoods if the Kenyan government fails to lift the ban. They have faulted the government, saying the the decision was not communicated to them in good time.

Those interviewed by The Standard said they only learnt of the ban after they had already placed their orders and even collected their consignments. They want the Government to install aflatoxin testing machines at the border to save them from losses.

There has been no commitment from both Kenyan and Ugandan authorities on resolving the dispute amicably.

Ugandan traders want their government to retaliate AFA decision by banning imports from Kenya. One of the Kenyan traders, Anne Wangui, said the AFA notice banning import of maize from Kenya and Tanzania was sudden and came after they had already made their orders and even paid for them.

Wangui said claims that maize from Uganda is contaminated are false as not evidence has been provided.

“We have been consuming the maize for many years. Thousands of people have been eating the maize without any complains. It is therefore wrong for the Government to make such claims without proof. The Government should come clear on this matter. Why is the Kenya blocking Uganda and Tanzanian maize from the Kenyan market?” Wangui said.

She said the continued trade tiff between Kenya and her neighbours is causing them massive losses.

“Denying truck drivers entry into Kenya means millions of shillings we have invested in the business is lying idle. We got the AFA’s notice last week way after we had already purchased the grain. Most of us have taken loans to do this business. The government must resolve whatever issues there may be so we are not ran out of business,” Wangui said.

Richard Opondo challenged the Government to explain where it collected samples it reportedly tested before declaring maize from her neighbours unfit for humans.

He said they are willing to have their maize imports tested at the border and allowed entry into the Kenyan market.

“I have been in this business for 20 years and this is not new. The claims by the Government are uncorroborated. We cannot sell poisoned maize to our countrymen. Moreover, we have certificates issued by relevant government arms to do this business,” said Opondo.

He added: “Continued holding of the maize in the Ugandan territories piling pressure on us. We fear the maize already loaded into lorries could go bad due to heavy rains here pounding the area.”

“Some of the grain is fresh from the farms and treatment cannot be effective when exposed to rain. We urge Kenya’s Agriculture Ministry to hear our cry and allow us to bring in the maize. We’ve invested a lot of money in the maize, it is borrowed money and we need to service loans.”

Festus Musia, who has been buying maize from Uganda for 15 years now, regretted that five of his trucks are being held at the border.

Musia said he risks losing over Sh2 million if the dispute remains unresolved.

“I am still struggling to service my loans. This is a blow to us, especially because we were not given adequate time to prepare for this. We admit that not all of us may have maize that meet the required standards and the Government should carry out tests to ensure we are no one is compromising consumers’ health.”

Yesterday, truck drivers were still stranded at the border. Charles Achieng’, from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), said the ban is in the best interest of consumers.

Achieng’, NCBTA chairman on the Kenyan side, said the Government has carried out investigations and established maize from Uganda and Tanzania has aflatoxin.

“Issues to do with health and safety of Kenyans will not wait for traders to be communicated to first,” he said. East African Community Director General for Customs and Trade Kenneth Bagamuhud, however, took a swipe at Kenya, terming the decision unilateral.

He said Kenyan ought to have consulted other EAC member states before arriving at the decision.

 

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