Kenya’s food imports in the first four months of the year grew by a third to Sh68.63 billion compared to a year earlier, reflecting the country’s reliance on foreign markets despite improved weather.
Official statistics collated by the Central Bank of Kenya shows food import bill rose by 30.10 per cent in the January-April period compared with Sh52.75 billion in the same period of 2017.
Kenya’s reliance on foreign markets to feed her citizens has increased more than four and a half times in a decade since food imports were valued at just Sh15.09 billion in January-April period of 2008.
Kenya’s overreliance on rain-fed agriculture has seen her increasingly resort to imports in the event of a drought.
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 ease prices.
Unscrupulous traders took advantage of the duty-free food import window by the Treasury to truck in stocks of staple maize they bought from countries such as Uganda and Mexico, and selling them expensively to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) at the expense of Kenyan farmers.
The maize import syndicate that saw traders paid nearly Sh2 billion by the national grain reserve left farmers in the country’s food basket region of North Rift stuck with maize harvests, their main source of livelihood.
NCPB chief executive Newton Terer resigned on May 20 over the scandal, with the managers in charge of Lake, Western, North and South Rift stores being suspended the following day pending investigations by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).
Besides maize, other major food imports are unmilled wheat and wheat flour, rice and sugar, according to the Economic Survey 2018.
Food accounted for 11.64 per cent of the country’s total import bill between January and April compared to 9.56 per cent in the same period last year, the statistics show.
Total imports in the period stood at Sh589.62 billion, a growth of 6.86 per cent over a year earlier.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has made food security, largely through increased investment in irrigation, one of key priority areas in his legacy term, together with universal healthcare, affordable housing and manufacturing.
Machinery accounted for the largest share of Kenya’s imports at Sh146.59 billion, a drop of 15.03 per cent year-on-year.
Minerals grew 25.96 per cent to Sh109.43 billion, while importation of chemicals rose 9.93 per cent to Sh92.09 billion in the review period.