Kenya is a country built and run on the wheels of irony. Not long ago, maize farmers across the country were crying foul accusing the government of failing to buy their maize.
The majority of farmers said they had hundreds of bags of maize in their stores, some of which had started rotting and vowed not to sell it to the government due to low prices.
In fact, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, praised the harvest of 2018, saying the country had more than 18 million bags of maize.
But just like what happens in Nigerian magician movies, two months ago, the maize just disappeared. To where? Nobody knows. Millers suddenly ran out of maize and it was evident that ugali lovers were under threat.
The Prices of Maize and Unga
The prices of maize rose sharply in most parts of the country. The average price of a 90-kilogram of maize spiked from between 1,800 and 2,200 shillings to between 3,400 and 4,000 shillings.
The price of maize flour increased by 30 percent in a period of one month. A 2-kilogram packet of maize flour increased from between 87 and 90 shillings to between 109 and 130 shillings.
In Bungoma County, a 90-kilogram bag of maize is retailing between 3,200 and 3,400 shillings, up from 1,800 shillings two months ago. A 2-kilogram tin in the same county is going at an average of 100 shillings, from 60 shillings two months ago.
Prices of maize seem to be highest in Kakamega County. A 90-kilogram bag of maize is at an average of 4,000 shillings from 2,200 shillings two months ago. A 2-kilogram tin of maize in Kakamega is retailing between 110 and 120 shillings, up from 55 shillings two months ago.
Memories of Mexican Maize
In what is likely to bring back the memories of the famous maize from Mexico, the government will be opening the importation of duty-free maize from another country in July.
According to the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, strategies are in place to including waiving of 50 percent duty imposed on grain imported outside the East Africa Community.
Millers had warned that they will not hesitate to increase the price of a 2-kilogram packet of maize flour to above 135 shillings if the government, through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), could not intervene.
It is not yet clear how much the government will pay for the imported maize and whether the price will be higher than what had been set for the local maize farmers by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
It appears the cartels played their cards well in ensuring that the retail price of maize hits at least 4,000 shillings for a 90-kilogram bag of maize before they can import the duty-free one and sell it at the same price or even higher.
Hungry Year Ahead
The long rains failed. This affected the agricultural cycle in most parts of the country. The majority of farmers failed to plant and those who did before the rains, nothing germinated.
The country should expect massive food shortage this year with analysts predicting that the harvest is set to drop by at least 30 percent.
Already, more than 13 counties are at the brink of hunger and starvation with the most affected being Baringo and Turkana where already hunger-related deaths were reported.
If there will be mass failure of crops, more counties will face widespread hunger and starvation further putting more pressure on the limited resources.