New theory on maize shortage

January 19, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 19 – The UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor Professor Jeffrey Sachs said on Monday that the multi-million shilling maize scandal, which has left over 100,000 bags of the cereal missing from the National Cereals and Produce Board, is not to blame for the current food crisis.

Professor Sachs said the crisis was a result of underproduction by small scale farmers, global climate change and disruption of the main planting season following last year’s post election crisis.

“It’s very hard to keep prices away from their market equilibrium and if they are very high because of food supply shortages, then you try to put a partial subsidy on the grain. It leaks in a hundred different ways and you end up with corruption because it’s very hard to beat the market,” Prof Sachs said.

“This is not the cause of the food crisis, but is a manifestation. I think it is very important for donors to understand that this is a crisis of insufficient food supply and of desperately hungry and poor people,” he said.

“The government tried to respond by keeping the price below the market equilibrium, which is very high, but it did not succeed in doing so,” said Mr Sachs.

He pledged to assist Kenya mobilise emergency support that would include assistance to small scale farmers and pastoralists, to raise productivity, at a summit to be held in Madrid next week.

The meeting will also be attended by donor communities.

“Our donor communities tend to focus on these things that are symptoms, rather than deeper causes and practical solutions.”

He however said that it was wrong to lower the market price for fertilizer compared to the world market price, because Kenya was an open economy.

He said he had advised the government against this in a meeting with top officials on Monday.

“I thought it would lead to another scandal on the road if they tried that, but what you can do is smart targeted subsidies through a voucher, for example, where every small holder farmer is given a ticket to buy maybe 50 kg of DAP or urea,” he suggested.

“That doesn’t enrich the rich, it doesn’t spill over national borders, and it doesn’t even aim to change the market price.” 

He said Malawi had successfully doubled its food production three harvests in a row in this way, and hoped Kenya would follow suit.


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