A worsening shortage of maize and wheat in Kenya could soon turn into a full-blown food crisis if left unchecked, industry lobbies have warned.
The shortage of the staple grains is likely to further push up the prices of these commodities and subsequently, worsen inflation, which the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has attributed to rising food and fuel prices.
The price of a 90Kg bag of maize went up by 47 percent to Kes4,200 in April this year, up from Kes2,850 a year ago.
The increase is attributable to persistent drought and reducing maize imports from EAC markets. Equally, the price of wheat rose from Kes3,800 in 2021 to Kes6,000 per 90 kg bag in 2022.
In a joint statement this week, the lobbies have called on the government to issue full duty exemption to bonafide food and feed millers charged on wheat for a period of 12 months to cushion consumers and local farmers.
Further, they are urging Kenya to open talks with Zambia to import a total of six million bags of maize but warn high sea freight or road transport costs pose a logistical challenge.
“Transport costs have increased from USD120 to 185per tonne from Lusaka to Nairobi, escalating the price of imported maize,” the group consisting of Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Cereal Millers Association (CMA), Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers (AKEFEMA), Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC), Agro-Processors Association of Kenya (APAK) said.
Others are Grain Belt Millers and Farmers Association (GBMFA), Agriculture Sector Network (ASNET), and United Grain Millers Association (UGMA).
Kenya produces roughly 100,000 metric tonnes of wheat against an annual demand of 2.4 million metric tonnes and usually plugs 60 percent of the deficit from warring Ukraine and Russia, a deal that may not be possible as the two Eastern European countries enter the fourth month of the war.
With Ukraine and Russia markets inaccessible, players in the sector are turning to the expensive importation of wheat from the US, Argentina, Australia, and Canada.
In Kenya, maize production is estimated at 3.2 million metric tonnes per year against the consumption of 3.8 million metric tonnes. EAC imports, which attract 50 percent duty, usually cover the shortfall and the government issues periodic tax exemptions to approved maize millers.
At the moment, the government has announced the lifting of import duty on maize for three months, but there is a global shortage of the commodity, worsened by extremely high prices occasioned by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the lobbies warned.
Whilst the traders asked the government to encourage farmers to release maize stocks at current prices, they also want the State to set up an inter-ministerial team to expedite the deployment of mitigation measures.