Consumers are staring at a food crisis after millers rejected the official timeframe for importing maize despite warning that the current stocks will be depleted in June.
Millers wrote to the National Treasury last week seeking extension of the import window to end of June “given the long logistical process involved in importation.” The Agriculture ministry has, however, ruled out a deadline review.
The Treasury, in a Kenya Gazette notice last week opened the imports window to millers, who would be required to ship in two million bags between April 20 and May 30 at a reduced duty of 14 percent for white maize (two million bags) and 10 percent for yellow, down from 50 percent.
“We have received confirmation that there will be no extension of the window that has been gazetted and we have come to a decision that we shall not make imports,” said an official of the Cereal Millers Association (CMA) who requested annonimity owing to the sensitivity of the matter.
“It is worth noting that the average time from order to vessel arrival from Mexico is 60 to 70 days,” the official added.
The lobby said that in the event a miller had already ordered a vessel and the loading berth was available on April 23, then the earliest it could arrive in Mombasa was between June 10 and June 20. According to the processors, the import window is not sufficient and those who dare may end up paying higher duty of 50 percent when consignments arrive after the period given has elapsed.
“We cannot import unless the date is changed. By now we would have initiated the process, but we cannot because of the short window that was given,” said Mr Ken Nyagah, the chairman of the United Grain Millers.
Mr Nyagah said the lobby had in its discussion with the Ministry of Agriculture agreed that the import window would last up to end of June, only to realise that the date had been changed in the April 20 gazette notice.
His sentiments were echoed by Association of Kenya Animal Feed Manufacturers, which has also written to Treasury secretary Ukur Yatani, seeking the changes on the date.
“We need to be realistic when it comes to imports. The window is not sufficient to ship in the produce,” said John Gathogo, the association’s publicity secretary.
The imports are supposed to be ordered from Mexico as it is the only source that the country relies on for white non-GMO maize.
There have been six million bags of maize in the country since April and given the monthly consumption of three million bags, the stocks were forecasted to last until end of next month with the deficit expected to be filled through imports.
Chief executive officer of Cereal Grain Growers Anthony Kioko said the imports should be managed in a way that it will not interfere with the expected harvest of the short rain crops in South Rift, which normally begins in June and goes all the way to August.
“There is a likelihood of imports overlapping with the short rain crop from South Rift as imported grain might spread all the way to August and this will impact negatively on farmers,” said Mr Kioko.
The overall effect on the imports would be lower prices on the local produce and Mr Kioko wants the government to ensure that the price of imported grain is not lower than that of the local one to protect farmers.
However, Dr Miltone Ayieko, the director of Egerton based Tegemeo Institute of Research, said that the 14 percent duty will not have a huge impact on traders as it only covers up for the difference with the local price so that the produce does not land in Kenya at a lower cost than what farmers are selling at.
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