New push for households to have own grain reserves

Farmers sorting maize before shelling at Wei Wei irrigation scheme in Sigor ,West Pokot County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Households should have their own grain reserves as one of the solutions to food insecurity, a regional private sector body has suggested.

This would be in addition to the national strategic food reserve, where millers would buy grains when there is a shortage at subsidised prices.

The East African Business Council (EABC) in a report that analyses the effect of food inflation in the region, also wants East African Community (EAC) partner states to allow for emergency exports in times of shortage.   

The Impact of Global Crises on Food Security in East African Community Report looks into the member states’ cereal imports, exports, and affordability. It details interventions that if implemented can be of benefit to the countries.

The report released last month covers the seven EAC member states. It shows the gaps in the production value chain and calls for increased trade within the region to expand the capacity of farmers to produce more. It details the deficiencies in food security using food imports over total merchandise exports, particularly cereal dependency.

“In the EAC region, Burundi, Kenya, and Rwanda had the highest import dependency
ratios,” the report says.

“This could be due to their staple foods mainly being cereals, which are not adequately produced in their respective countries.”

Uganda and Tanzania, on the other hand, seem to import less of the food, possibly because they are able to meet their local needs as cereals also constitute some of their staple foods.

Kenya’s cereal import dependency ratio is the highest, according to the report, hitting above 45 per cent in 2017 and 2018.

The main types of staple foods in the region are cereals - rice, maize, wheat, rye, barley, oats, millet and sorghum. There are also roots and tubers where potatoes, cassava and yams fall.

“The major food crops in the EAC are maize, rice, potatoes, bananas, cassava, beans, vegetables, sugar, wheat, sorghum, millet and pulses. Cereals are a major food product in EAC. As of December 2021, East African Countries recorded total trade of 182.6 million dollars in cereals

The report notes that there is an increasing need to have adequate amounts of food stored or preserved to cushion the population against different extremes, with bumper harvests going to waste during famines, crises, and flooding.

“This has been the case with mainly cereals in partner states where silos store grains, mostly maize, which is bought from farmers and serve as national grain reserves,” the report explains, adding that when there is a dip in food production, millers buy these grains at a subsidised price to cushion the public from food inflation.  “This should be encouraged at the household level,” says the report.

“Traditionally, granaries have been used to store maize, cassava has been dried and then converted to flour, beans have been dried and treated in order to last longer.”

The report says similar interventions should be explored to preserve nutrient-rich foods at the household level and cascaded to country and region levels. The business community also calls for increased regional trade, which could open new
markets for farmers and agri-businesses hence contributing to developing production
networks and value chains across sub-Saharan Africa.

The resulting knowledge transfers, including for adaptation (for example, optimising drought-resistant crops, best-suited equipment for a given terrain and training on its use, energy-efficient agricultural practices) as well as the competition could boost productivity,” the report says.

In addition, greater regional trade integration and resilient transport infrastructure will enable sales of one country’s bumper harvests to its neighbours facing shortages.

“Tariff reduction and regional alignment of agricultural and product market laws and regulations, especially with respect to water, seeds, and fertiliser will all be elemental,” the report adds.

“Expansion of producer organisations can facilitate the adoption of new technologies, scale up food production and distribution, and support price stability.”

The regional private sector body notes the significant effect the Russia-Ukraine war has had on the food supply chain globally.

More specifically, Ukraine being a major producer of cereals has led to a disruption in the food security of most countries.

Some of the challenges of food and agricultural policies in most countries globally, the report says, are those that promote staple crop productivity, price incentives, crop-specific input subsidies, and grain procurement for food security stocks, which suppress farmers’ efforts towards diversification of their production systems.

It notes that market price policies usually target common commodities like wheat, maize and rice. This should include subsidising manufacturing to expand value addition and diversify food baskets

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