Why Kenyan millers are in no hurry to import maize

Monday April 05 2021
maize pic

Agriculture deputy minister Hussein Bashe (left) visits the Tanzanian side of the Namanga border post where dozens of lorries laden with maize were held up after Kenya blocked entry of the cereal from Tanzania and Uganda last month. PHOTO | CORRESPONDENT

By Zephania Ubwani

Arusha. Kenyan millers may be dragging their feet on maize imports from Tanzania due to surplus production at home last season.

Sources at the Namanga border crossing post intimated to The Citizen that bumper harvests in Kenya were the reason for the recent maize imports ban.

Officials of the Agricultural and Food Authority (AFA), which imposed the ban, would not confirm or deny this; but they hinted that Kenya would not import the cereal from Tanzania and Uganda for now.

It was the same authority which on March 5 banned imports of maize from the two countries, citing Aflatoxin contamination above the safety benchmarks.

Two days later, AFA rescinded the ban - but insisted that maize imports from the two countries must be free of the cancer-causing mycotoxins.

Maize importers in Kenya have, however, protested over this, saying contamination of the maize by the toxic material could be an excuse to lock them out of business.

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“Our hearts are bleeding. This is our biggest loss ever in this business,” said Mr Daniel Wainaina, chairman of the Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa).

He said during a meeting convened by the East African Business Council (EABC) that they weren’t sure the maize samples taken meant that all the consignments were infected.

AFA insists that maize imports be accompanied with a certificate of conformity which has to comply with a maximum Aflatoxin levels of 10 parts per billion.

But traders interviewed claimed highly contaminated cereals can still be separated with those not much affected so as to save them from huge losses.

Others hinted that the Kenyan authorities could be foot dragging due to bumper harvests of maize in the last season or imports from other source countries.

Mr Wainana said he had been told there was a surplus of maize in the Rift Valley and Western regions in 2019/20 harvest season.

This is corroborated by remarks made by a senior AFA official who said maize imports from Tanzania and Uganda would not be considered until June.

“Kenya would not need maize imports until June. There is plenty from North Rift,” said the crops inspector of the agency, Mr Calistus Efukho.

Traders interviewed said Kenya would normally assess its maize stocks in June to see if there were a need for imports of the commodity.

It is during the middle of the year when projections for the season’s harvests are concluded - and any demand to fill the gap is known. Tanzanian maize exporters, however, have another story as to why their main traditional market for their commodity was problematic this year.

Those reached out said Kenya had recently imported huge quantities of maize from abroad, technically blocking out imports from the East African region.

“I have also heard this; but I’m not sure,” stated Mr Walter Maeda, current chairman of the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) in the region.

Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kifwa and AFA officials have denied this. But AFA hinted that the ban may be reviewed in June “depending on how importers would comply”.

As the saga continues, reports have it that over 1.4 million Kenyans are staring at starvation in the face due to a shortage of 5.5 million maize bags.

Maize production last year was 43.2 million bags against an annual requirement of 47 million bags.

The projection was not achieved, as the country produced 41.5 million bags, resulting in a shortfall of 5.5 million bags.