NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 6 – The government has allayed fears of an increase in maize flour prices by the end of this month due to a shortage of grains in the market.
Agriculture Minister William Ruto told reporters on Wednesday that the government had extended the window for importation of duty-free maize to June this year to allow for more grains to be sourced outside the country and therefore prices should be not hiked.
“No trader, importer or businessman should use the excuse that there’s any change in government policy with respect to the importation of maize in the country. We do realise the importance of keeping that window open so that we can keep the prices of maize and maize flour at affordable levels,” he said.
The duty-free regime was implemented last year in a bid to curb the skyrocketing prices of maize flour in the market which was then retailing at an average of Sh120 per two kilogramme packet. It will however be reviewed later on in the year while taking into account the prevailing food situation.
The extension of the waiver – through which the private sector has imported 15 million bags of maize in the last one year – will see maize flour prices maintained at the current levels of Sh86 per 2kg.
Traders and millers in the past week warned of an imminent rise in the prices if the regime is not maintained.
Mr Ruto however urged them to be reasonable and pass the benefits of the 25 percent waiver on imported maize which was put in place last year to enable the country bridge the 16 million bag deficit to ensure food security.
The minister questioned why it cost Sh1,800 to import a 90kg bag of maize but the same was being sold at Sh2,400.
“We do expect that the private sector should be disciplined enough to realise that we are talking about food stability in the country and therefore we expect them to pass on the benefits to the consumers,” he said.
If that failed, he said the government would seek audience with the private sector particularly the millers and importers to discuss “what the issues are.”
The country has been facing a serious food shortage since 2008 that threatened the lives of 10 million Kenyans prompting the government to intervene. One of the interventions was the free distribution of seeds to farmers across various parts of the country.
Mr Ruto however assured that the exercise carried out last year had been successful with four million bags expected to be harvested in several parts of the country. He expressed confidence that areas that received adequate short rains would have positive results which should help reduce the current maize deficit in the country to 12 million bags.
“We are happy to announce that we have had a very successful short rains period. We are expecting to harvest four million bags in parts of Central, Eastern and Coast Provinces,” he disclosed.
The government would provide free seeds and fertiliser to another half a million poor farmers in the next season as part of the intervention measures to bridge the food deficit in the country, he added.
Mr Ruto further said they would continuing with the Sh1 billion-irrigation revival scheme program which would also target other areas in Northern Kenya in a bid to upscale the crops under irrigation to 200,000 acres this year.
Forty thousand acres were put under irrigation last year from where half a million bags of maize and a million bags of rice are expected to be harvested. The program is expected to help Kenya move from its reliance on rain-fed agriculture which has failed to ensure food security for the country.