Kenya clears air on toxic maize ‘ban’ after EAC partners condemn action

Monday March 15 2021
MAIZE PIC

Trucks with imported maize from Tanzania waiting to offload outside Mombasa Maize Millers in Mombasa in this picture take in August 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By The East African

Kenya has denied banning maize imports from Uganda and Tanzania over aflatoxin as the East African Community termed the decision not procedural.

The Agriculture and Food Authority in a letter dated March 5 said maize from the two countries have revealed high levels of mycotoxins “that are consistently beyond safety limits of 10 parts be billion” sparking off a fresh trade war between the three founding EAC partner states.

But while Kenya’s ministries of the East African Community and Trade remained tight-lipped, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya appeared to contradict the AFA letter when he denied banning maize imports.

"We have not stopped importation of maize from Uganda and Tanzania. What AFA has done is to check the quality of maize coming into the country,” said Mr Munya on Wednesday last week.

Mr Munya appeared to state that the lorries at the Namanga border would be cleared after undergoing further tests, allaying fears the country has banned maize from her two neighbours.

“If someone dries the maize and aflatoxin levels go down, he will be able to continue with the trade. It is a stopgap measure issue of ensuring compliance.”

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Unprocedural

Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed, who is also the current chairperson of the EAC Council of ministers, did not respond to our calls and messages by the time of going to the press.

But as expected, the reaction by its two neighbours was swift and fast.

“Kenya is Chair of the EAC and if it has started from that perspective then it is very unfortunate,” said Kenneth Bagamuhunda, EAC Director General in charge of Customs and Trade.

“There is a procedure of how to ban importation of goods in any situation. But we haven’t seen written concern. The move is therefore unprocedural.”

The correct procedure, according to the EAC, Kenya should have raised the matter from the Ministry of Agriculture and then coordinated a written complaint through the ministry of the EAC.

“As EAC we have agreed on the standards, moisture content, mutual recognition of quality marks, and certified suppliers of maize and maize flour from partner countries,” said Bagamuhunda.

Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Agriculture Hussein Bashe said the Government is closely watching the decision to bar more than 25 lorries of maize entering Kenya at the Namanga border without any written notice from Kenya.

A section of MPs in Uganda want sanctions levied against Kenya terming the move as an attack on the spirit of regional integration.

“It is not the first time this house is raising concern over the unfair treatment of Ugandan traders by Kenya. The East African spirit is under attack,” said Hon Macho Godfrey, legislator for Busia Municipality which borders Kenya.

Maize is the third most important agricultural commodity worldwide after rice and wheat in terms of area planted and consumption. “We expected Kenya Bureau of Standards would give us indication our maize has high levels of Aflatoxin. We are yet to receive information to that effect,” said Bashe, when he visited the Kenya-Tanzania-Namanga border last weekend.

He defended the quality of maize from Tanzania, saying every batch had a phytosanitary certificate confirming it was fit for human consumption.

“We will not sit back and watch our agriculture destroyed by such actions.”

This is not the first ban of Ugandan products by Kenya in a span of three months. Earlier this year, Kenyan authorities seized Pearl Dairy products.

Uganda protested and stated that these seizures went against the EAC Customs Union protocol and even threatened to take the matter to court.

A section of MPs in Uganda want sanctions levied against Kenya terming the move as an attack on the spirit of regional integration.

“It is not the first time this house is raising concern over the unfair treatment of Ugandan traders by Kenya. The East African spirit is under attack,” said Hon Macho Godfrey, legislator for Busia Municipality constituency, which borders Kenya.


Global staple grain

Maize is the third most important agricultural commodity worldwide after rice and wheat in terms of area planted and consumption.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization Maize Market in Eastern and Southern Africa 2020 Report, Kenya’s annual production target has been 40 million bags (50kg bags) or approximately 3.6 million tonnes.

However, over the past decade, average production has been well below this.

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture show that Kenya imported maize valued at Ksh4.2 billion (about $42 million) from Tanzania in 2019.

In January, Kenya imported over 450,000 bags of maize from the two counties and another 300,000 bags in February.

Uganda exports at least 90 per cent of its maize to Kenya with a cumulative average of 330,620 tonnes.

Besides aflatoxin, the gap between demand and production that has placed maize at the centre of the food security debate may have triggered the current trade wars.

“Agriculture is 90 percent rain-fed as the weather can change the dynamics a lot. Maize production in Kenya varies from one season to another. But annually we produce from anything from 40 million bags (50kg bags) on average,” said Anthony Kioko, CEO Cereals Growers Association (CGA).