Nairobi: Millers are lobbying to have a duty-free window for importing maize extended to June next year to stabilise flour prices. The millers say keeping the window that was to close on Saturday open would ensure there is adequate stock, discouraging hoarding by farmers anticipating higher prices.
“Some farmers may take advantage of the end of duty-free exports to hold onto stocks expecting better returns when shortages occur. This might put us in an awkward position because passing on the costs to already burdened consumers will be resisted,” said Diamond Lalji, chairman of the Cereal Millers Association.
Farmers, however, say the extension was unnecessary because this year’s harvest is adequate to stock the strategic grain reserve and meet the millers’ needs.
“The harvest for this season is impressive. The government should instead speed up buying the produce from farmers,” said Kipkorir arap Menjo, a Kenya Farmers’ Association director.
Mr Lalji said there could be another shortage before the next harvest because the government was yet to replenish the grain reserve to the required level of three million bags. There is a target to beef up the reserve to eight million bags by 2014.
He said the government should allocate more funds to the agricultural sector in order to enhance food security through increased production of wheat and maize, ensuring consumers benefit from ‘reasonable’ prices.
“Over the last five years, 70 per cent of the country’s demand for wheat has been satisfied through imports. Farmers should be supported to increase the acreage under the crop,” he said, adding that 600,000 tonnes of wheat were imported in 2010.
A 90 kilogramme bag of maize in Eldoret is currently retailing at between Sh2,700 and Sh3,000 whereas wheat goes for an average of Sh3,000 down from Sh 3,800.
Mr Menjo cited erratic weather patterns, fluctuating prices of farm inputs and the unregulated fuel prices as hindrances to investment in agricultural activities. He urged the government to employ more extension officers to educate farmers on husbandry.
“The extension officers should have a programme of visiting farmers and not rely on field days, which do not provide answers to each farmer’s unique concerns,” said Joel Kirwa, a farmer from Kesses division in Uasin Gishu County.
KFA said farmers are still reluctant to take insurance against crop failure because of high premiums and poor compensation record. “Many farmers are still reluctant to buy the insurance scheme because they have no confidence in insurance firms,” Mr Menjo said. The association also asked the government to provide incentives for farmers to venture into green house technology and irrigation in order to produce a variety of crops throughout the year.