Dar es Salaam — The government has moved to allay fears in Kenya that maize flour exports to the neighbouring country could fail the standard test.
Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga told The Citizen yesterday that most millers in Tanzania met the required quality standard preferences.
He was responding to concerns raised by his Kenyan counterpart Hamadi Boga, that the difference in standards and low capacity will hinder Tanzania's quest to export maize flour to Kenya.
"Maize flour from outside the country must be attuned to the consumer preferences in Kenya," the Business Daily quoted the Kenyan minister as saying.
Kenyan flour is fortified, which is a requirement by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), while most of the Tanzanian commodity is not, making access to the local market difficult, the paper noted.
On capacity, the Kenyan official said Tanzania's largest miller has a capacity of 100 metric tonnes a day compared to Kenya's total daily capacity of 16,000 tonnes.
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"These factors of standards and low output makes the plans of importing flour from Tanzania unviable," he told the Daily Nation in an interview.
However, Mr Hasunga told The Citizen that Tanzania would only export maize flour to Kenya which meets the latter's quality standards.
Maize trade was part of bilateral deals agreed upon by President John Magufuli and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta during the latter's visit to Tanzania recently.
And ovethe past two months, the inflow of maize from Tanzania and Uganda has helped to stabilise the price of flour, which is now maintained at Sh2,460 for a two-kilogramme packet in Kenya. In Tanzania, one-kilogramme costs Sh1,200.
Mr Hasunga said the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) would be involved in the fortifying of maize flour for exporting to Kenya.
However, the minister noted that there are few local millers who did not meet the Kenyan standards, and these would not be considered for exports.
He added: "What we will export to Kenya is maize flour that meets their standards, in accordance with Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS)."
Kenya currently has a huge demand for maize and rice amounting 1.5 million tonnes and Tanzania wants to exploit that market.
Minister Hasunga said although Tanzania's harvest was high last season, it was 458,000 tonnes below the 2018 season due to low prices, which, apparently, discouraged farmers. Inadequate rains also played a role in the decline.
During the just-ended season, the country's total maize harvest was 6.2 million tonnes, while demand was 5.4 million tonnes.
The minister noted that Tanzania still had sufficient stocks of maize, as some traders and farmers were still holding on to stocks from the previous season. "We are hoping to register public and private warehouses with an intention of knowing the available stocks," he said.
Mr Hasunga encouraged maize traders and millers to exploit the business opportunities that the Kenyan market presented.
However, he was quick to point out that traders must focus on exporting maize flour rather than maize as create employment opportunities.
President Magufuli last month also said Tanzania would only export flour, not maize grain to Kenya as earlier announced.
In what comes as good news to Tanzanian farmers, the demand for maize in Kenya has fuelled price increases. The minister to The Citizen that it was a positive development for the farmers who are usually shortchanged after their hard work.
He said: "When the price of maize goes up, it is a blessing to our farmers; we have always wanted to see them benefiting more from what work hard for."
In Kenya, however, the news of imports from Tanzania was greeted with mixed feelings.
Millers in the neighbouring country had opposed the plan by Tanzania to export maize flour, arguing that it would destabilise the market and subject them to losses.
The processors argued they buy maize at Sh80,000 for a 90-kilo bag and bringing in flour from Tanzania would render theirs uncompetitive.
And in April, Kenya's Agriculture minister Mwangi Kiunjuri's announcement that the maize gap needed to be bridged through imports was greeted with murmurs, with MPs, the national Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga claiming there was enough food in the country and that importation was choreographed by "cartels."
"We cannot bring in maize from Mexico. We are going to scout the grain from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa countries," Mr Kiunjuri told MPs last week in an abrupt change of stance.
In March, the ministry said there were 21 million bags of maize in the country forecast to last until the end of June with deficit having to be filled through imports. However, political pressure has seen government backtrack from importing outside the region.