Kenya's food imports crossed the Sh100 billion mark in the six months through June for the first time, official statistics show, underscoring the country's growing reliance on foreign markets despite improved weather.
Food and beverages order bill from abroad stood at Sh108.51 billion in the January-June period, a 12.55 per cent rise over Sh96.41 billion in the same period last year, data collated by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicate.
Kenya's dependence on foreign markets to feed her citizens has nearly doubled in the review period compared with Sh55.80 billion at the same time in 2015 and is more than two times the Sh33.66 billion in 2010. The country's over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture has seen her increasingly resort to imports in the event of dry weather.
A biting drought last year, for example, prompted subsidies and waiver of import duties between mid-May and December to smoothen purchase of food such as maize, milk powder and sugar from abroad to meet demand and arrest price hikes.
Kenya's major food imports include maize, unmilled wheat and wheat flour, rice and sugar, according to the Economic Survey 2018. Increased purchase of food such as staple maize from abroad saw Kenya run Sh4.13 billion trade deficit against Uganda in five months through May for the first time ever.
This was after imports from the landlocked country jumped more than two-and-a-half times to Sh30.21 billion against Sh26.08 billion exports from Nairobi.
The neighbouring country accounted for 70.36 per cent of the nearly 419,548 tonnes of maize imports, an equivalent of about 4.66 million 90-kilogramme bags, in the period, statistics by the Kenya Revenue Authority showed on June 14. Food accounted for 11.77 per cent of the country's Sh921.88 billion total import bill between January and June, unchanged from 11.39 per cent share in the same period last year when Kenya suffered one of the worst drought spell in recent years.
Food security, largely through increased investment in irrigation, is one of the four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta's ambitious "Big Four" plan which runs to 2022. "Achieving this (food security) will require enhancing large-scale production by placing an additional 700,000 acres of land through PPP and by promoting investments in post-harvest handling as well as adopting contract farming and other commercial off-taking arrangements, including supporting the development of agro parks or hubs to serve as a link to farmers and markets," Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said in budget statement for this financial year ending next June.