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Empty plates as maize prices rise 80pc in drought-hit regions

By Jennifer Anyango | September 24th 2021
Maize farmers park their produce in bags after drying them for sale. [File, Standard]

Maize prices in arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) have risen to record highs even as the regions contend with a debilitating drought and the effects of Covid-19.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), maize prices in ASALs have risen 80 per cent to Sh4,500 per 90kg bag, up from Sh2,500 per bag amid a supply crisis due to the ongoing drought in many parts of the country.

The regions have for the better part of the year been experiencing erratic rainfall followed by dry spells, a situation that has been worsened by the effects of Covid-19 effects that has shrunk household incomes.

Most of the ASALs regions have also been under the grip of insecurity as communities fight over pasture and water for their livestock. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the current drought a national disaster on September 8, with about two million people in urgent need of food aid. Already, 10 counties are in the alarm stage and require urgent food aid.  

According to FAO, the most affected counties are Marsabit, Garissa, Isiolo, Tana River, Wajir and Kilifi. 

Desert locusts, the UN agency says, also affected pasture in Turkana and Samburu, as well as Marsabit counties.

A draft Food and Nutrition Security Report by FAO for August notes that the wholesale price of a 90kg bag of maize was selling at an average of Sh2,950 (average taken from other 100 markets nationally), up from an average of Sh2,770 in July.

“This jump in price is partly attributed to the panic reaction following the media publicity on looming drought. In June, the average wholesale price of a 90kg bag was Sh2,830, and Sh2,878 in May,” says the report.

And according to the Food Security Situation Analysis in ASALs for September, also by FAO, food insecurity has deteriorated in these counties following the poor performance of seasonal rainfall.

The affected population is estimated to be about two million people. This has seen residents resort to barter trade, where they are exchanging a goat for a 66kg bag of maize.

The price of beans has also gone up in these regions, with a 90kg bag going for Sh8,640.

The Food Security Situation Analysis report indicates that the average price of a 90kg bag of beans was Sh7,850 in August, Sh7,035 in July, Sh7,558 in June, and Sh7,961 in May.

Cattle prices have, however, remained stable at Sh21,300. But the report says this is likely to decline with the drought situation getting worse.

According to the report, goat and sheep prices stand at Sh3,300 and Sh2,800 respectively.

The report indicates that a total maize crop failure was experienced in Kitui, Tana River and lower parts of West Pokot counties.

It says the trend is worsening in Baringo, Samburu and Laikipia counties.

“Slightly below average yields are expected since the crop suffered moisture stress during top dressing, and some farmers are not able to do topdressing at all in several areas. Production from the region is expected to be 14.6 million bags, down from the targeted 17.9 million (90kg bags),” the report says.

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