Why Kenya’s maize importation fiasco is a threat to food security

Over time, Kenya’s maize import has grown exponentially especially from the neighboring countries and specifically Uganda, but what exactly has perpetuated this scenario that has persisted over time. To put this into perspective Uganda has a comparative advantage at producing maize than any other country in the region, which in essence means Uganda has the ability to produce maize at the lowest cost than Kenya.

One thing about Uganda is that Maize is not a staple food, which is clearly demonstrated by the Nations Maize balance sheet. The consumption component only occupies a small proportion of the entire production which mainly covers learning institutions, Military, and correctional facilities as well as hospitals, and so the general population does not consume Maize as much which now gives the country the luxury to export the remaining production to the neighboring countries. This is evident by the fact that in recent times Uganda has registered 78% increase in maize export to Kenya, going to the statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture in that country.

A portion of Ugali, a dish made from maize flour, is seen in a restaurant in Nairobi
A portion of Ugali, a dish made from maize flour, is seen in a restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya.  REUTERS/Baz Ratner

This has further been aggravated by the existence of organized arrangements that have come into being, for instance, the East Africa Grain council has managed to organized farmers in Uganda into groups, facilitate collection points and make arrangements through which sellers and the buyers meet as well establish a source for markets.

It therefore, makes commercial sense for traders in Kenya to buy maize from Uganda and sell it to government, which is admitted to National strategic grain reserves in the country, a situation that creates a conducive environment for cartels to flourish and deprive genuine farmers the opportunity to get Income and improve their standard of living by doing business with government.

Policy Approaches, what needs to be done to break away from this fiasco:

What we all need to understand is that agriculture is at the heart of common mwananchi, hence the genesis and rationale for having it envisaged as part of the Big 4 agenda, and thus to avoid a situation in which food security is a threat , there is a need for serious policy and institution reorganisation of the entire agricultural sector with an aim to rid out any established formations of the cartels. I belong to the school of thought that holds the thought that government ought to do business through and with farmers

There is need to come up with a way to identify and buy maize from genuine farmers and facilitate especially the very venerable farmers by having an arrangement that will see their maize bought and factored in the strategic reserves.

A boy from a nearby slum struggles with a sack of yellow maize retreaved from a dumping site in Nair..
A boy from a nearby slum struggles with a sack of yellow maize retreaved from a dumping site in Nairobi August 25. Hundreds of slum dwellers scrambled for the hundreds of tonnes of corn which is suspected to be contaminated.

Enhance prudential measures in all government Agricultural agencies that will ensure prompt payments to the farmers, Avoid pilferage and theft of especially fertilizers that eventually find its way into neighbouring countries which in the long –run make it difficult to distinguish maize that is foreign from Domestic , and this ought to be punctuated by Public participation especially maize stakeholders .

lastly, farmers do not end with those in the Rift alone, Kenya is blessed with other crops, and thus there is need to urgently to re-examine various policies in respect to Other crops we have in the country.

Take a look for instance in Macadamia farming sector, over time there has been preferential treatment given to some processing plants, while others have been shut out under the guise that they sell Raw macadamia, leaving only a few to export the plant, a situation that has demotivated farmers of this crop.

Another aspect for example in the Dairy sector is how do we manage milk surplus? Milk is one aspect, which Kenya is self-sufficient on, meaning we have the ability to produce a surplus, and therefore firms in processing segment need to factor in Value addition which brings out the aspect of having milk powered processed and stored for future eventualities to avoid importation, especially during drought.

Thuo Njoroge Daniel is an Economics and Policy Analysis Lecturer at School of business of Karatina University.