Kenya is looking at yet another acute maize shortage as harvests across the country dwindle, further diminishing the hope of most households having some affordable ugali this season.
Agricultural experts have indicated that this year’s harvest of maize will be less by more than 4.7 million bags compared to what was harvested in 2016. The Ministry of Agriculture admitted that more than a quarter of the expected maize harvest was destroyed by armyworms. The armyworms ravaged more than seven counties, most of which are traditionally considered the food baskets of the country including Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans-Nzoia, Bungoma and Kisii.
The drop in maize harvest comes at a time the country is struggling to get out of a prolonged drought that led to the death of thousands of livestock while leaving more than 3.5 million people at the brink of starvation and malnutrition with Garissa, Marsabit and Lamu being the most affected regions. In Uasin Gishu, maize farmers blamed the subsidized fertilizer from the government. They said that their maize turned yellow as soon as it germinated and thousands of acres of maize withered. Uasin Gishu County is set to record 30 percent drop in maize harvest as compared to 2016 while Trans-Nzoia is set to have between 10 and 20 percent less of maize harvest as compared to the previous year.
Early this year, Kenya almost witnessed what was termed by the political class as the unga revolution when the prices of maize flour soared to a historical high of 150 shillings per 2-kilogram packet. To help contain the situation, the government ordered maize from Mexico, leading to the subsidization of the flour to 90 shillings per 2-kilogram packet. The government had indicated that it would withdraw the offer at the end of the month of September. The Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Willy Bet, however, on Sunday reassured the country that the government will continue with the subsidy program to beyond September. He said the government has already spent 9.9 billion shillings in importing 8 million bags of maize.
What is more worrying is that the little maize that is being harvested across the country is being sold off to middlemen who are buying it at low prices from farmers. In Bungoma County, for instance, middlemen are buying maize at the price of 50 shillings per 2-kilogram tin. This is similar to buying a 90-kilogram bag at 2,000 shillings down from 4,500 shillings a month earlier. In places like Kanduyi, Musikoma and Kimilili, (Bungoma County) maize has already been harvested and sold. The only region with maize in Bungoma County is Tongaren where farmers have already begun harvesting and selling them off.
According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s inflation has always revolved around food prices. Average inflation stood at 10.21 percent for the period from 2005 to 2017, at one time reaching an all-time high of 31.50 percent in May 2008 with an all-time low of 3.18 percent in October 2010.
Maize has been said to be the key crop in Kenya with statistics from Data Africa – Kenya indicating that Maize is the most harvested maize at 36 percent followed by beans at 26 percent. (The stats are set to change this season with the maize likely to fall below 30 percent with that of beans below 20 percent). Maize constitutes of 3 percent of Kenya’s GDP, 12 percent of agricultural GDP and 21 percent of total value of primary agricultural commodities.
Featured image via www.standardmedia.co.ke.