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Govt insists there is sufficient maize

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 18 – The Ministry of Agriculture says it is not ready to release maize held in its strategic grain reserve amid claims by millers of an impending shortage.

The ministry reported that it had 16.9 million bags of maize, which was sufficient to last until the end of August.

Agriculture Permanent Secretary Dr Romano Kiome on Wednesday said with the current rains, the first harvest was expected at the start of July, which would be used to shore up the current stocks.

"That is actually asking too much because the strategic grain reserve is actually meant for famine relief and those who have no food at all. It\’s for emergency purposes only," Dr Kiome said.

Millers claim they have 519,000 bags of maize, which they say is fast running out.

The challenge however is that of the 19.6 million bags with 10 million bags of this being held by farmers who are latching onto their maize waiting for prices to go up.

A report released by the ministry of Agriculture shows that traders have 2.4 million bags, with the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) holding 3.1 million bags.

The millers have charged that the current maize stock levels are low claiming some mills in Machakos and Mombasa had shut down.

Dr Kiome however said millers should shop in the market for their stocks or even import.

"There are people with maize in the country and the millers should look around for where else to buy," the PS said.

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Last month, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the government had waived all duty on maize and wheat imports, but the waiver is yet to be implemented, further fuelling the problem.

"The stock levels are not expected to last until the end of the month. The government needs to ensure there is adequate stock for the millers," a statement from the Cereal Millers Association said.

Maize is the country\’s staple food with a national consumption rate of 3.5 million bags a month.

"We believe that if this weather continues to behave well as it has we might not be in dangerous situation because at the beginning of July we will begin having harvest especially from the south rift and by mid August other parts will be harvesting," Dr Kiome said.

The high cost of living has seen the price of a two-kilogramme packet of high-grade flour rise to Sh100 from Sh72 at the beginning of the year while wheat flour is now priced at Sh130 from Sh115 in January.

The Cereal Millers Association Chairman Diamond Lalji says that once the import duty for wheat and maize is effected, it will reduce the demand for local maize as well as spur farmers to release the bags they are holding onto.

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