In Summary
  • Mr Githuku said the government failed to act on the information and waited until matters ran out of hand.
  • Kenya normally relies on imports from Tanzania and Uganda to bridge a deficit of about 20 million bags of maize every year.
  • The high cost of food saw inflation jump 11.48 per cent in April from 10.28 per cent the previous month.

Poor policies, dithering in decision making and dependence on rain-fed agriculture are behind the current high cost of living, which has seen Kenyans dig deeper into their pockets to put food on the table.

An agriculture think-tank, Tegemeo Institute of Policy and Research, says the country would not be facing the current challenges if the government acted fast to put in place measures that would have tamed the maize shortage, which had been anticipated.

“We warned the government in November (last year) that there would be a serious shortage of maize and advised them to make the necessary arrangements for import by February,” Mr James Githuku, a senior research associate at Tegemeo, says.

Mr Githuku said the government failed to act on the information and waited until matters ran out of hand.

The Egerton-based research wing informed the government of an early consideration of potential sources of such imports, given the drought in the region that had affected Kenya’s source markets for white non-GMO maize.

An outbreak of maize disease in the country’s grain basket made matters even worse.

“There is a need to prepare early for a possible maize shortage, taking into account the lag-time in procurement and duration that the imports will take to land,” Tegemeo said in its recommendation last year.

Kenya normally relies on imports from Tanzania and Uganda to bridge a deficit of about 20 million bags of maize every year.

Millers have already said the price of maize flour, which is currently retailing at Sh144 for a two-kilogramme packet, will only come down in the next two months after they receive consignments from Mexico.

“In the initial weeks of the import programme, some millers will have access to imported maize and others will not, so we do not expect maize flour prices to stabilise until adequate imported grain stocks are distributed across all the mills,” the millers said last week.

“This is expected to be in late June or early July. When this happens, prices are expected to settle at the Sh125-Sh135 per 2kg packet,” they added.

However, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said on Friday that the price of flour is expected to come down this week, contradicting the millers.

Last week, Mr Joshua Chepkwony, the proprietor of Jamii Unga, broke ranks with other millers saying that the current prices of flour are exorbitant and that his counterparts are making unjustified profit.

Mr Chepkwony said that the price of a 2-kilo packet ought to have dropped to Sh118 factoring in the Sh3,000 that the government was selling maize to millers from the Strategic Food Reserves (SFR), and this is after factoring in production costs.

“If we factor in the cost of transporting that same packet of unga from Eldoret (where the Jamii factory is located) to Nairobi at about Sh2, for instance, plus a 10 per cent margin, it all comes to about Sh118 a packet,” Mr Chepkwony said, adding that anybody selling the same for more than Sh120 is dishonest and robbing Kenyans.

But the Cereal Millers Association (CMA) argues that the price at which a miller decides to sell their maize depends on the cost at which it was acquired.

“Our business is based in Nairobi and we have to transport maize from Eldoret to the city, there is an additional cost in bringing this maize here,” CMA says, adding that transporting a bag to Nairobi costs Sh200 more.

Mr Githuku said the government should utilise the current rains to harvest runoff water, which will come in handy when the dry spell kicks in.

After going through the drought, the rains are causing destruction, with scores of people killed by the floods.

The cyclic events can be avoided if proper mechanisms are put in place to harvest the runoff.

Harvested runoff has the potential to meet Kenya’s water requirements by four times if stored for future use. But this has taken long to be implemented.

Kenya has just come from one of the worst droughts in recent years, which saw people and livestock die of starvation and thousands in need of food relief.

The perennial maize shortage has been attributed to lack of proper policies, with Kenya dependent on rain-fed agriculture for food production as opposed to the use of large scale irrigation systems.

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