The blame game over the maize crisis masks a serious problem that cannot be wished away. Confusion is being created whose objective is to allow dubious maize imports through which well-heeled individuals can make a kill to the detriment of the consumers. This is not new. It is a recurring and well-choreographed script every year with a predetermined ending.
On the spot is Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, who has been flip-flopping and failing to provide leadership to help the country navigate the crisis. Since May when it emerged that the country was staring at a maize supply crisis, he has kept making spurious statements and changing positions.
At one point he stated that the food situation was stable and declined to authorise imports, only to change and indicate that the country was facing huge deficits that would necessitate bringing in more than 10 million bags of maize.
The deficit is equally disputable. The Strategic Food Reserve Board puts the shortfall at two million bags with the projections that farmers will be harvesting in the next two months, which will stabilise the food situation. To be sure, farmers have been withholding fairly large stocks of maize because they do not have confidence in the National Cereals and Produce Board, which not only underpays them, but takes too long to disburse the cash, making farming a loss-making venture.
In all these, there is confusion on the magnitude of the food crisis, made worse by delayed rains this year. And what transpired in Parliament this week was worrying.
First was the question on cash withdrawn clandestinely from the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund as an advance for maize imports. There is insufficient information on the planned imports, raising questions about its legitimacy. Ideally, such cash ought to be reserved to pay farmers and pending bills that run into billions.
Secondly, members of the Parliamentary Agriculture Committee claim that a consignment of maize imports may be headed to our shores, a fact disputed by Mr Kiunjuri and which we cannot vouch for at this time. This should be investigated.
At the macro-level, the perennial food deficit presents a subject for serious discussion. Except for a few years, the country suffers recurrent food shortage attributed to insufficient rains, pest infestations, poor post-harvesting crop handling and lack of markets. Yet we have the capacity for food sufficiency through improved and technology-driven agriculture.
We need resolution to the present crisis and it behoves Mr Kiunjuri to provide objective assessment of the food situation and initiate strategic interventions to avert hunger.