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High flour prices hang over consumers as millers reject supplies

A worrying claim from millers about the low quality of maize in the market has raised concerns that must be addressed urgently. Millers last month threatened to go for imported maize, citing a host of concerns about the maize supplies including from NCPB’s strategic reserves.

They said at least half of the grain they purchase is usually rejected because it is “wet, diseased, rotten, and with high levels of aflatoxin,” which puts the agriculture sector on the spot.

Maize is ranked in grades from one to three based on moisture content (14 per cent for all grades), bulk density specifying packaged weight in kilogrammes, protein, ability to be milled, and whether it is an edible grain fit for human consumption.

NCPB managing director Newton Terer recently confirmed to a parliamentary committee that most of the maize in the NCPB is Grade 2”, with the rest downgraded to Grade 3 for other uses.

Entrenching good hygiene practices can boost the country’s production and go a long way towards easing the loss of grain estimated at between 20 and 30 per cent post-harvest. Kenyans largely depend on traditional maize harvesting, drying and storage practices, according to stakeholders attending a recent post-harvest handling forum in Nairobi.

“The health component of post-harvest handling is an area that has not been given the attention it requires,” said Anne Mbaabu, head of markets at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, urging Kenyans to embrace best management practices to save yields from unnecessary losses.

Interestingly, the reports of bad maize in the market come despite the government’s efforts to boost quality and reduce wastage by distributing 36 grain dryers at a cost of Sh390 million to the maize-growing regions last year. Farmers shunned the facilities, opting for other means.

Some analysts in the sector say in an intricate mix of politicians, businessmen and brokers — who sometimes double up as millers — the issue of hygiene could be used as a loophole to play with the market for individual gain.

Tanzania and Uganda have already harvested their maize while in Kenya, planting is usually around April with the crop ready by mid-September. Some farmers prefer to sell the green maize, but others wait for it to dry for harvesting up to December.

Sunny weather is perfect for drying since maize can grow toxic molds when exposed to moisture, but with climate change it is becoming more difficult to rely on traditional drying methods.

Therefore as millers continue to demand quality maize, its shortage will always seem to excite the market leading to the demand for “good maize”, especially when NCPB happens to have in its storage maize that had been “downgraded” as was recently revealed to the Agriculture committee.

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