Kenya’s sharply contrasting 2017 and 2018 maize production seasons have renewed focus on the country’s planning credentials even as experts warned that world hunger is on the rise, again.
The country is projecting a record harvest of maize in 2018 on favourable weather — just months after it witnessed a massive shortage of the commodity due to a prolonged drought that affected farming in key producing areas.
Kenya is expected to net 46.1 million bags of maize this year, according to estimates by Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute — further complicating matters in the country’s grain market that currently has surplus stocks due to a huge inflow of imports to cover for production shortfall in 2017.
“High imports in 2017 and early 2018, plus good production this year have led to abundant supply and low wholesale market prices,” the institute observed in a new assessment report.
This situation has triggered a dilemma that could blight the country’s future food security as farmers consider scaling back on production of the commodity amid concern of losses due to low prices, delayed payments by the National Cereals and Produce Boards (NCPB) and lack of proper storage facilities.
Maize is the most important cereal grain in the country accounting for about 65 percent of staple food calories and covers 40 percent of total crop area.
Most farmers are disillusioned by the overall prevailing market price of Sh1,250 per 90-kg bag of maize against an expected Sh2,725 and are either hoarding their produce in anticipation of better prices or planning to scale back production to minimise losses.
“Acreage under maize is likely to go down because farmers are harvesting maize as soilage or planning to reduce acreage under maize,” Tegemeo Institute cautioned and recommended for a review of data collection and analysis by government agencies involved in planning the country’s food security.
Farmers in Kenya have raised the alarm over an influx of cheap maize especially from neighbouring Uganda, which suppressed market prices ahead of harvest.
Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) showed that maize imports from Uganda in the first six months of 2018 helped it to surpass the value of its exports to Kenya for the first time ever.
The value of goods bought from the landlocked country was Sh30.21 billion while exports were at Sh26.08 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of Sh4.13 billion — the first ever recorded.
Uganda and Tanzania have over the years played a big role in bridging deficits in Kenya’s grain market through cross-border trade.
Under the East African Community customs union, goods are supposed to flow freely between member states.
Besides turning the spotlight on the country’s market intervention decisions, the expected record harvest of maize in 2018 will put to test the country’s preparedness to deal with post-harvest losses.
Estimates by the Agriculture ministry showed that the country faces up to 30 per cent post-harvest losses annually.
The average post-harvest loss in cereals is estimated at 10 percent, fruits at 11 percent and vegetables at 7.85 percent.
For instance, in June the NCPB held maize worth Sh3.1 billion that was unfit for human consumption. A report, tabled in Parliament showed that 1.6 million bags of maize purchased at Moi’s Bridge silo and 220,358 bags bought at Kisumu silos were moulding with high heat and insect damage.