Kenya forecasts low grain production

August 24, 2009

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 24 – Stakeholders in the grain industry have predicted that the country will continue to import grains until late next year.

Chief of Party at the Kenya Maize Development Program Steve Collins said on Monday that the country might only manage to produce about 15 million bags of maize against the projected 20 million during the long rains season, and about 2.8 million bags of wheat. Long rain crops account for over 85 percent of the national production.

The situation, he added, is being compounded by the fact that Kenya is no longer receiving grains from Uganda, which now prefers to export to Southern Sudan where the prices are favourable. Tanzania is also grappling with a crisis of its own.

“I know its not good news and people don’t like to hear it but we need to have that reality check that we will have a major deficit of grain,” he warned.

Maize is a staple food in Kenya with about 1.8 million hectares of land under production every year, hence the crop’s deficit is interpreted to mean there’s a food shortage.

Mr Collins however allayed fears that there might be food rationing, saying farmers have a few million bags of alternative crop, while millers have enough grains albeit costly.

The government has since early last year spent billions of shillings in the importation of maize and fertiliser in a bid to cushion millions of Kenyans against biting hunger pangs and skyrocketing food prices.

These intervention measures have however led to market distortions and Mr Collins said that the industry would like to see less interference in the setting of prices in the sector.

He said instead the government should allow the demand and supply forces to determine the prices of these commodities.

This situation was particularly evident last year when the government said it would buy maize from farmers at Sh1,700 at a 90 kg bag only for farmers to refuse to sell to the National Cereals and Produce Board demanding higher prices.

Mr Collins also faulted the banning of food exports across borders as a move to ensure food sufficiency.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto in October last year banned the export of maize in a move which he said was aimed at ensuring the country does not lose harvests to other markets.

“You have to realise that whether you like it or not grain moves across borders but it costs a lot of money to do so,” Mr Collins argued.

He pointed out that the East African governments should instead try to find ways to enhance food productivity and efficiency in the region.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to double our agricultural production per unit area and because our population has almost quadrupled since independence we have to be more efficient per unit area,” he challenged.

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