Maize shortage has started biting, with millers complaining of dwindling supply from farmers despite a 44 per cent price rise.
This comes at a time when the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is storing less stocks than the numbers required for Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR).
The NCPB normally stores three million bags of maize under SGR, but was meant to increase the number of bags this year to eight million.
Currently, NCPB is has only 2.7 million bags under SGR.
NCPB managing director Gideon Misoi says the board is yet to receive more funds from the government to buy more maize.
“We are still waiting,” said Prof Misoi.
Barely two months later, the harsh reality of increased prices of maize flour is dawning upon Kenyans, with the country’s staple food having shot up to Sh120 from Sh92 last week.
The SGR meant to create equilibrium between the supply and demand for maize has hardly enough stocks to last the country for a month.
Last year, the shortage of maize saw the price of a 90 kilogramme bag of maize sell at nearly Sh6,000, making the price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize shoot from Sh80 to Sh150.
The government, through the Ministry of Special Programmes, issued Sh2 billion to NCPB which was used to purchase 600,000 bags of maize meant for SGR.
Millers are currently buying maize at Sh3,600 up from Sh2,500 in the past few weeks, but they are hardly receiving stocks.
A mill manager from one of the milling industries in Eldoret says that even with the attractive price, there are no queues of farmers jostling to sell their produce.
“Evidently there is no maize in the country because the price that we are offering currently would be enough to see us receive more maize from farmers,” said the manager who sought anonymity.
The current price of a 90 kilogramme bag of maize has gone beyond the Sh3,000 that the government has been offering farmers.
In an interview, chairman of the millers association Diamond Lalji said that it was too early to start speculating whether farmers are holding maize or if their efforts to transport maize from the farms have been hampered by the ongoing rains.
Mr Lalji, however, noted the possibility of a looming crisis cannot be ruled, out given the higher prices that they are offering and still no stocks are coming in.
“Well, farmers might have been hampered by the ongoing rains, but still, with this price and the planting needs that farmers have, they cannot hoard maize,” said Mr Lalji.
Mr Lalji says that if there is no maize, then the crisis that looms could be more serious compared to last year, because Malawi, a major exporter to Kenya of non-GMO white maize, has banned exports.
The country consumes up to 36 million bags of maize annually against the declining production of less than 30 million.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture report for this year, the country harvested 28 million bags last year.
Mr Lalji is asking the ministry to get the exact figure of the maize that is in the country right now in order not to mislead the public.
Cereal Growers Association of Kenya (CGA) have been categorical that there is a general maize shortage, but cautioned against allowing millers to import maize.
“It is not in doubt that we are experiencing a maize shortage, which has sparked the price of maize to go upwards, but this should not allow importations,” said Mr David Nyameino, chief executive officer of the CGA.
Mr Nyameino said that though the situation might be a threat to the food security, the ongoing rains are likely to boost production of other crops such as Irish potatoes and beans, to sustain the country till the next harvesting season expected to start on July in South Rift.
Mr Nyameino dismissed claims that farmers could be hoarding maize, arguing that last year’s harvest was low.
“There was not enough maize in the country in the past harvesting season, but we expect the shortage to ease with the onset of harvest in July,” said Mr Nyameino.
Last year’s maize crop was affected by erratic rain pattern that saw some farmers replant their maize owing to rain failure.
Kenya Farmers Association director Kipkorir Menjo says the shortage has been created by middlemen who bought maize from desperate farmers at a lower price and stored it under the warehouse receipting system (WRS).
“It was a desperate attempt by traders to store maize to ensure that supply decline does to push the price of maize up,” said Mr Menjo.
Farmers and consumers
Mr Menjo says the government has to re-look at the whole issue of the WRS by ensuring that they are in control of the cereals bought from farmers and also make sure that it benefits farmers and not the business people whose intention is to make money from farmers and consumers alike.
He noted that the current situation would force the government to import maize to feed the nation.
A survey by the Nation at some the large scale farms revealed that nearly all of them had already sold their stocks.
Ms Victoria Rotich, a large scale farmer in Uasin Gishu who harvested more than 3,000 bags of maize has sold her entire stock.
“It is not right to say that farmers are holding maize. From my understanding, the number of bags that we harvested last year was not more than what we harvested the previous year,” said Ms Rotich.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mr Christopher Kiptum, a farmer in Kuinet, Uasin Gishu County whose harvest for last year dropped to 3,000 from 5,000 bags during the previous year.
NCPB is holding about 50,000 bags of maize under the warehouse receipting system, bringing a total of 643,000 the total bags of maize at the board, while millers have 300,000 bags, according to Mr Lalji