Kenyan shortage of grain critical

Kenyan corn millers warned the government twice in the past six months that the country faces a shortage of the staple, with strategic reserves at less than a day’s supply.

Grain processors advised the government in November that a shortfall was looming and in February suggested that a 50 percent import duty be removed to enable shipments, said Paloma Fernandes, chief executive officer of the Cereal Millers Association.

The nation, which declared a drought emergency in February, only gazetted the removal of the import tax in April, which meant shipments only started arriving this month.

“We’d foreseen this shortage because it happens every five years or so when there’s a drought in Kenya,” Fernandes said in Nairobi.

Kenya’s strategic reserves of corn declined to 4500 metric tons this month, the National Cereals and Produce Board said last week. The Agriculture Ministry will spend $58 million through July, importing 450 000 tons of corn to offset a shortage resulting from below-average precipitation during the March-to-May rainy season.

While the ministry was made aware of a potential corn shortage in December, it had expected that farmers would be able to help cover the deficit, said an official at the ministry who declined to be identified because he isn’t authorised to speak to the media.

Similar measures to those in Kenya are being introduced in neighbouring countries hit by the regional drought, which has left 17 million people facing hunger, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Burundi last week removed taxes on key commodities such as rice, beans and cassava for two months, citing a scarcity, while Uganda suspended its import tax on unprocessed rice, a staple in the country.

East African countries face a food-production deficit of about 30 percent of consumption, said Anne Mbaabu of the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

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