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High food prices to stay

NAIROBI, August 19 – Experts have predicted that food prices will remain high in 2009.

East African Grain Council Chairman Nick Hutchinson told a media briefing Tuesday that although the government had addressed the food crisis, the reprieve was only short term as, come 2009, the country would be experiencing a maize deficit of six million bags.

At a press conference organised by the Kenya Maize Development Program (KMDP), Hutchinson said the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) would also be without the strategic reserves to get the country through the year and this might keep food prices up.

It is estimated that maize production will be about 27.5 million bags against a consumption of 36 million bags.

The government has indicated plans to import 1.6 million bags in 2008 which is far less than the country’s requirements. Already about 50, 000 bags of maize have been imported from Uganda.

Tanzania has however imposed a ban on its maize exports and this is likely to impact negatively on Kenya.

Hutchinson said the country was also in a dilemma because the farmers who need to be motivated to grow food crops to meet the shortfall were making unreasonable demands.

The farmers who are faced with a myriad challenges ranging from poor rain fall, rising costs of fuel and fertilizer and compounded by the effects of the post election conflict have been pressurizing  the government to take urgent intervention measures such as giving subsidies for various farm inputs.

He said this called for the producers to start viewing farming as a business.

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“We need to motivate farmers but it should not be at the expense of consumers,” Hutchinson said.

The Chairman added that the high cost of production presented a good business opportunity for farmers.

He was of the view that increasing crop production per unit area had the reverse effect of reducing the cost of production by using good agronomic practises which would increase the farmers’ competitiveness.

He lauded the government’s proposal to construct a regional fertilizer plant, as a long term measure to address the high prices of the commodity, saying that farmers would benefit from economies of scale.

Hutchinson added that time was ripe for Kenya to embrace biotechnology as it had the potential to come up with varieties that are resistant to pests, diseases, and at the same time increase productivity.

At the same function, Cereal Growers Association Chief Executive David Nyameino said farmers would embrace any technology that put money into their pockets.

Nyameino also said that although farmers welcome the government’s move to import grain such as maize and wheat, this should not coincide with the country’s harvesting season.

They spoke during a media briefing on the upcoming Business Fair to be held between September 4 and 5 in Eldoret.

The annual event is expected to bring together more than 100 private sector companies and over 20,000 farmers.

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During the fair, 38 varieties of maize, 27 of wheat and several other varieties of beans, sunflower and vegetables from different companies are expected to be showcased.

Besides linking the producers to the different players in the value chain, the event is also expected to provide them with an opportunity to learn about new trends such as warehouse receipting.


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