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Food prices start coming down as harvesting begins

 Grain traders in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

With only two months left to the maize harvesting season, food prices in North Rift - the country's grain basket - have started dropping.

The country's staple food - maize - is majorly produced in Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Nandi and parts of Elgeyo Marakwet, where farmers are currently optimistic about a good yield.

Other maize-growing belts, including Kilgoris, Narok and some Western region counties, have already embarked on harvesting but in small quantities.

Neighbouring Eastern Africa Community states - Tanzania and Uganda - have also harvested maize, with their produce currently flooding some parts of the Kenyan market, helping ease prices after prices of the staple hit record highs in recent months.

Over the past few weeks, there has also been a steady drop in food prices in the North Rift as farmers complement maize with other crops, including potatoes and beans, whose harvest season has already set in.

"We have started consuming green maize and by the end of September, we will be harvesting this season's maize, and demand for dry maize will further drop and, in turn, prices. We anticipate good harvests if prevailing weather patterns persist," said Thomas Boen, a large-scale farmer from Uasin Gishu.

Boen said maize prices are expected to drop in the coming weeks as imports from other regions start hitting the local market. "Access to food currently has improved, and we expect a 90kg bag of dry maize to retail at about Sh5,000, down from over Sh7,000 recently," he said. "We did early planting and expect better yields because of the timely distribution of the government's subsidised fertiliser. But prices are unlikely to drop beyond Sh4,000 per bag because fuel, agrochemicals and other farm farm inputs are still high."

Mr Jeremiah Kosgei, a maize trader in Eldoret, said the price for a 90kg bag of maize will soon retail at Sh5,000 in the North Rift.

"Millers in Nairobi have lowered prices of maize to as low as Sh 5,500 per bag but have not started buying due to a drop in demand," said Kosgei.

He said a 50kg bag of potatoes, which had hit over Sh6,000 in parts of the North Rift, is currently retailing at between Sh1,800 and Sh2,000.

Kosgei noted that although some farmers are currently harvesting beans, it is in low quantities, with the bulk of the crop being sourced from Uganda. It currently retails at between Sh400 and Sh450 per 2kg tin, down from Sh600 recently. He further said about 95 per cent of dry maize currently in the market is sourced from Tanzania and Uganda, while the rest is from Narok.

Josphine Suge, a resident of Mosoriot in Nandi County, said a 2kg tin of dry maize currently retails at Sh200, down from Sh230 recently.

A green maize cob, on the other hand, currently retails at between Sh20 and Sh30, while roasted maize goes for Sh40. Other sources said the recently harvested dry maize is cheaper than last season's due to moisture content and retails at Sh170 per 2kg tin in parts of Nandi. Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Nandi branch Chief Executive Festus Kipkoech said food prices have drastically dropped in parts of Kapsabet town and its environs. "By the beginning of August, food will be more affordable since farmers have started harvesting short-season food crops, while maize is also maturing," he said.

"Local farmers seeking ready cash are selling fresh green maize at between Sh90,000 and Sh110,000 per acre," said Kipkoech. Pick-ups, tractors and trucks are becoming a common sight in some rural farms as farmers dispose of their produce for quick cash in parts of Nandi County. Most farmers selling green maize anticipate better returns as they seek to avoid storage and transport costs as well as post-harvest losses.

But in Nakuru, foodstuff prices continue to rise, with traders packaging green maize in 90kg bags, which go for Sh8, 000. Dry maize currently retails at Sh6,300, while the popular Wairimu beans variety costs Sh8, 500 per 50kg bag. And in Kisii, prices of most foods remain high despite the recent long rains. A sack of beans still retails at between Sh6,000 and Sh8,000 while, maize is going for up to Sh8,000 per 90kg bag.

Benson Ondieki, a trader at Daraja Mbili, says some farmers are yet to release their produce to the market.

"Prices are way high and are double the cost during the same period last year. We anticipate a dry season, and prices could soar further," said Ondieki.

He added; "The region has produced the least. Land size has reduced and soon, Kisii will not be ranked among food basket regions in the Country."

Nyabururu Girls National School Principal Joyce Orioki, who is also the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Chair Kisii branch, said some school heads have been forced to change school menus due to the high cost of food.

Reporting by Titus Too, Daniel Chege, Eric Abuga and Martin Ndiema

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