Ruto rushes to Cabinet, bowl in hand

November 26, 2008

, NAIROBI, November 26 – Agriculture Minister Mr William Ruto has revealed that he will seek the Cabinet’s approval for the release of more money to import maize.

Mr Ruto told reporters on Wednesday that instead of the three million bags of maize that they intended to buy in August, the country only managed to bring in 1.5 million bags. He explained that the initial budgeted cost of a 90kg bag of maize went up by almost Sh1,000 forcing them to buy less stocks.

“I’ll be going back to the Cabinet to ask for more money to import another two million bags but that decision will have to be made tomorrow (Thursday),” he said.

He was however quick to add that the amount of grain brought into the country would largely depend on the shortfall that would exist after harvesting.

Of the 1.5million bags  he added, some 40,000 bags were brought in from Tanzania while the rest was purchased from South Africa.

His remarks came as the country grappled with a shortage of maize flour which has seen a two-kilogram packet of the flour retail at Sh120 from a mere Sh48 in December last year.

The minister also revealed that 800,000 bags had already been sold to the millers. However, in the next one month, millers would be buying maize directly from the farmers.

“We stopped selling maize to millers because we wanted to retain some maize for emergency purposes in flood prone areas and food deficit areas such as Turkana and Samburu,” he said while trying to explain the origin of the maize shortage.

However, Mr Ruto added that he would also persuade the Cabinet to release some of the stocks set aside as relief food and strategic reserve with the view of selling some of these maize to millers. He expressed confidence that the shortage of maize flour would be over in the next few weeks.

“Millers are buying between 18,000 and 20,000 bags from farmers in areas where they are harvesting right now but the situation should stabilise in the next few weeks,” the minister stressed.

Mr Ruto’s revelations came even after the millers asked the government through the National Cereals and Produce Board to begin allocating maize to registered millers at the stipulated price of Sh1,750 and Sh1,830 per bag.

In a paid up advertisement in the local dailies, the Cereal Millers Association Chairman Mr Diamond Laji complained that they were not able to procure adequately from farmers.

The millers also asked the government to waive the 50 percent duty on imported maize grain for a specified period of time to allow stocks to be replenished and therefore reduce market speculation.

“At current prices, duty-free maize would land into the local market at similar prices to those being paid to the farmers today,” the chairman argued.

While observing that the country had gone through a ‘maize crisis’ every five years since independence, Mr Laji called on the government to emulate Malawi and support input subsidies for maize farmers to encourage them to produce more maize that can sustain local requirements.

“Farmers need to improve their ability to efficiently and competitively produce maize and market it at a fair price to the consumers and export surplus maize. This will aid in maintaining price stability,” he added.

He also called on the government to reduce food manufacturing and distribution costs particularly those associated with fuel, electricity, packaging and handling at the Port of Mombasa.

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