Puzzle as maize imports triple but flour prices skyrocket

Farmers sort maize after drying them at Rock Centre area in Uasin Gishu County, April 15, 2020. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Maize imports into Kenya tripled in the first quarter of the year compared to a similar period in 2021 even as flour prices hit a record high. 

The latest data from the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that millers imported over 116, 000 tonnes of maize during the quarter to March of this year, up from 37,100 tonnes registered last year. 

The KNBS data appears to contrast assertions by the industry on the shortage of maize in the country.

The price of a 90-kilogramme bag of maize has risen from about Sh2,800 in December to about Sh4,500 in March and is currently at Sh6,000, which has been attributed to reduced supply.

This has seen a 2kg packet of maize flour - a staple across Kenyan households - cost over Sh200 up from Sh129 in June last year to add more pain to citizens already reeling from a skyrocketing cost of living. 

“The volume of imported maize more than tripled from 37,100 tonnes in the first quarter of 2021 to 116,200 tonnes in the first quarter of 2022,” said KNBS in the Quarterly Balance of Payments report for the first quarter of 2022.

This is unlike the case of wheat and rice, whose imports dropped by a third largely on account of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

“The quantity of imported wheat and rice declined by 35.4 per cent and 32.3 per cent to 384,800 tonnes and 132,600 tonnes, respectively in the first quarter of 2022,” said KNBS.

The shortage of maize leading to the high cost of flour has seen the government implement measures expected to increase the grain in the country and hopefully reduce the price of the staple.

Among these include the suspension of imported maize that took place effective yesterday.

In a gazette notice, Agriculture CS Peter Munya waived the levies for a period of three months, which are among the measures that the government s putting in place to lower the cost of maize flour.

“It is notified for the information of the general public that the CS responsible for Agriculture … has suspended the payment of fees and levies charged on the import of maize grain… for a period of 90 days, with effect from July 1, 2022,” said Munya in the notice.

The Government also in May gave incentives to maize millers to import more maize into the country, waiving import duty on the grain from outside the East African Community (EAC).

The National Treasury in May opened a three-month window for players to import some 540,000 metric tonnes of maize duty-free to avert a food crisis.

“In consequence of the notification of an impending maize crisis in the country by the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Co-operatives, a waiver of import duty has been granted for the importation of not more than 540,000 metric tonnes of white non-genetically-modified organism (GMO) maize grain,” said the Treasury notice.

“The waiver of import duty shall apply to white non-GMO maize imported into Kenya on or before August 6, 2022.”

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