That the country has experienced food insecurity in the last decade is a matter that should not be taken lightly in the face of maize demand outstripping supply.
Kenya’s population is projected to hit 52 million by 2020, with the demand for the country’s staple likely to be five million tonnes. If experts’ projection is anything to go by, we will have a deficit of 1.2 million tonnes of maize by that year.
This means the country will have to rely on imports — that bleed Forex reserves — or humanitarian emergency assistance to save millions from the pangs of hunger. Just four years to year 2020, millers have raised the red flag over thousands of maize bags stored at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) stores which they claim is unfit for human consumption.
Last month they warned the price of maize flour would go up as they were considering going for imports. Currently, NCPB is holding more than 400,000 bags of maize worth about Sh1 billion that is unfit for human consumption.
It is alleged the maize has been stored for longer than the recommended two years. Disposal of this maize will cost the taxpayer dearly. Also raising eyebrows is post-harvest handling practices, especially at NCPB where technologies used for loading and offloading maize is said to be more than 50 years old.
It is estimated that 40 per cent loss happens before harvests get to the market, a situation attributed to poor storage and transport systems. Millers say 50 per cent of maize they buy is rejected because it is either wet or rotten and contains unacceptable levels of aflatoxin.
Resurgence of Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) in parts of the country due to lack of funds to conduct research to develop varieties resistant to the disease should send alarm bells ringing as MLN is capable causing complete yield loss.
If current state of the maize sector is not arrested soon, households that depend on maize for income and food will be trapped in the vicious circle of poverty and hunger.
While we applaud the Agriculture ministry’s move to release one million bags to millers in a knee-jerk reaction to forestall hiking of flour prices, the government must act proactively to ensure the country is never in a never-ending state of food insecurity. Through proactive interventions, the country can mitigate grain or financial losses from the farm gate to the plate.