The government has yielded to pressure from millers to extend the time frame for importing low-duty maize from Mexico in a bid to avert a looming shortage of the commodity.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said on Monday that the government had considered the views of millers, who had requested a two-month window for imports.
“We have extended the notice because millers said that they needed up to two months to import the produce. I do not know why they did not say this at the beginning before we made the first gazettement,” said Mr Munya. Maize imports outside the East Africa attract a duty of 50 per cent.
Through a special gazette notice published on April 20, the National Treasury had cut the duty to 14 per cent (white) and 10 percent for yellow maize.
The low duty importation window was to run up to May 30, allowing local millers to ship in two million bags of each of white and yellow maize.
However, millers wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture saying the time given was not sufficient especially with the Covid-19 measures having slowed cargo clearance across the world.
The extension comes as a relief to consumers who have been staring at higher prices of flour in the wake of reduced supply of maize in the market.
Millers had already warned last week that the price of flour would go up in the absence of imports to bridge the local deficit.
Chief executive officer of Cereal Grain Growers (CGA) Anthony Kioko said the imports should be managed in a way that it will not interfere with the expected harvest of the short rain crops in the South Rift, which normally begins in June on a low scale and goes all the way to August.
“There is a likelihood of imports overlapping with the short rain crop from South Rift as importation window might spread all the way to August and this will impact negatively on farmers,” said Mr Kioko.
The government’s move brings to question its preparedness on making policies given that calls for imports have been going on since last year after it was projected that the 2019 stocks will not last beyond May, with the Ministry of Agriculture announcing last year that imports would be necessary this year.
This is a reminiscence to what happened in 2017 when a late decision on imports was reached, a move that saw more maize than what was required imported into the country, resulting to lower prices of the staple in 2018, with a bag of 90 kilos hitting a low of Sh800 at farm gate, from a high of Sh32 the previous year.