By Patrick Beja
Importation of containerised cargo has gone down at Mombasa port in the past few months due to the global recession.
However, business for millers, transporters, freight logistics and agri-based firms is being sustained by the importation of cereals and fertiliser.
A spot check confirmed less boxes at the Mombasa container terminal, which has faced heavy congestion in the past.
"For about two months now, the port is free of container congestion. There are less ships discharging containers," said a Kenya Ports Authority official who sought anonymity.
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Kenya Transport Association (KTA) Organising Secretary Sam Machio said most trucks could have been grounded were it not for the increased importation of grain and fertilizer.
Machio, who is general manager at the Shiva Carriers Limited, a truck firm, said many trucks have turned to carrying the commodities upcountry after the containerised container cargo went down.
He spoke at the port as a fleet of trucks from his firm hauled tonnes of fertiliser imported by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) for tea farmers.
"We are currently transferring this consignment from the port to the KTDA warehouse at Miritini," he said.
KTA Coast Executive Officer Eunice Mwanyallo also said they have been applying to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to use their transit trucks to transport grain from the port to upcountry.
Usually, transit trucks are only used to deliver goods to countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ms Mwanyallo said transit trucks are prohibited from carrying goods for the domestic market for fear that they could be used to divert transit goods.
"We apply to use transit trucks only to transport grain locally and not other goods," she said.
Last Friday, 28,500 metric tonnes of fertiliser imported by KTDA arrived on board IVS Kite from France and made the port a beehive of activity as trucks hauled it out.
KTDA Operations Director Arthur Rimberia says the agency ordered 57,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser from Messrs Yara of France early this year after world fertiliser prices dropped.
Rimberia explained that the world prices have dropped from Sh3,400 per 50 kg bag last year to about Sh2,200. In 2007, he noted, the prices stood at Sh1,296 per 50 kg bag and attributed the sharp rise to global oil and freight prices.
KTDA had to skip the annual importation of fertiliser last year for the small-scale tea farmers as the prices were uneconomical.
"At the current price, total price is estimated at Sh2,200 per 50 kg depending on exchange rate movements and transport cost from port to the factories," Rimberia said.
He said all the fertiliser was to be transported by road from the port to the tea factories.
Last week, grain importers and millers said they were expecting about 600,000 metric tonnes of maize and wheat imports this month. Between June and December, they expect about 300,000 metric tonnes of maize and wheat hence making the port busy.
However, the Cereals Millers Association (CMA) warned that Kenyans may not benefit fully from the zero-rated imported maize due to demurrage charges as ships will be kept waiting owing to the single mechanised discharge facility at the port.