Don't bring in duty-free maize just yet - farmers

The announcement sparked off protests from local leaders and farmers, who said it was impossible to harvest and sell produce within a short time without compromising quality. They also dismissed claims that the cereals producers were hoarding maize in anticipation of good prices.

On Friday, a section of large-scale farmers said there was a need for the government to extend the duty-free maize import window until large-scale producers exhaust what they still have.

The producers who spoke separately in Eldoret said harvesting, sorting of maize, shelling, packaging and selling was a long process, noting most large-scale farmers were now ready to release their produce into the market.

They further said a drop in price from Sh5,300 in November and December to between Sh4,500 and Sh4,800 per 90 kg bag currently was an indication of an increase in maize supply into the market currently. They said the arrival of imported produce would cause a glut and distort the market.

"The government should push duty-free maize import window from February to a later date since most large-scale farmers are releasing their produce into the market. Most of the farmers have been harvesting, shelling, drying to quality standards and packaging between December and January," said Ben Kirwa, a farmer from Kipsombe in Uasin Gishu County.

Kirwa asked the government to dispatch agricultural officials to check on maize stocks that are still with the farmers before allowing imports.

Shadrack Chebii, a farmer from Soy, said maize production was becoming frustrating "due to dynamics in the sector" and fluctuating prices. "Large-scale producers need to be allowed to sell stocks before allowing the duty-free maize into the market. With the expectation of imports, millers are no longer purchasing the cereals, leading to a drop in prices," said Chebii.

He said most maize producers disposed of their produce at low prices early this week to raise money for school fees.

Tom Nyagechaga, the Kenya National Farmers Federation commodity representative in Trans Nzoia County said if the government empowers local farmers, there would be no reliance on imported products.

"If maize prices are dropping in the market, it indicates there is adequate maize. The government has failed to allocate funds towards the purchase of food reserves through the National Cereals and Produce Board," he said.