Kenya: Row Simmers Over Maize Imports as Millers Exhaust Stock

A row has emerged over importation of two million bags of emergency maize stock, as millers run short of supply.

The Strategic Food Reserve (SFR), which is in charge of emergency food stock, is expected to import the grain after it exhausted its four million bags stock.

It has, however, emerged that the National Treasury has been tasked with the importation of the maize mainly from Mexico to avert a food crisis.

Sources at the Agriculture ministry revealed that the changes were prompted by the agency to fast-track logistical hiccups and ensure that the maize arrives in the shortest time possible.

"President Uhuru Kenyatta recently ordered SFR to import two million bags but cancelled it again, ordering the Treasury to handle the matter after consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture," said the official, who sought anonymity.

SFR chairman Noah Wekesa was non-committal when contacted over the matter, referring reporters to Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.

LEGAL ROUTE

Now, farmers in the North Rift plan to file a lawsuit to safeguard local market.

The farmers want the government to mop up available maize at competitive rates before resorting to imports to meet the impending shortage.

"We shall have no option but to move to court to obtain orders restraining the importation of the grain as a protective measure against unfair competition from cheap imports, which destabilise local markets, subjecting us to heavy losses," said Mr David Too, a farmer from Uasin Gishu.

The farmers who held a meeting in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, said they have huge stocks of last season's maize and want the government to buy the produce at competitive prices to enable them raise capital to plant this season's crop.

"As much as we appreciate the forces of demand and supply in determining the market prices following the liberalisation of the economy, the government has an obligation to protect us from unfair competition," said Mr Samuel Kosgei, a farmer from Trans Nzoia County.

APPROVAL

At the same time, governors under North Rift Economic Bloc asked the government to start mopping up maize from farmers and use it to help vulnerable groups, saying that the coronavirus pandemic might push the nation to the jaws of hunger.

"We urge the government through NCPB to begin the mobilisation of foodstuffs to arid and semi-Arid areas," they said in a statement signed by Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago.

The SFR had petitioned the Agriculture ministry to allow the importation of four million bags of maize to meet the shortfall in the market and contain rising flour prices.

The agency wants the ministry to approve the importation of two million bags of white maize before May amid projections that stocks will run out by April.

Dr Wekesa said SFR had written to the ministry, which is expected to come up with a Cabinet memo on the importation.

"We do not have any reserves at the moment, and we would like the government to move with speed to allow imports and curb a possible crisis. That is why we have written to our parent ministry requesting it to allow imports," he said.

LOCAL PRODUCE

But Mr Munya has maintained that verifications will be carried out before appeal by SFR to import the grains is approved.

The move, which could open another round of war between the government and farmers over grains, will see the NCPB import two million bags of white maize and an additional two million of yellow maize to be used for processing animal feeds.

"We want the government to first exhaust all the local produce before allowing any produce," said Mr Thomas Korgaren, a maize and wheat grower from Moiben who has 1,500 bags of maize and 14,000 bags of wheat.

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