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Kenya has approved the import of 5 million bags, or 450,000 metric tons, of yellow corn from Ukraine as a drought slashes its own output of the grain.
The imports, the first of the variety since 2011, will be brought in by private companies and sold to animal feed millers, said Johnson Irungu, Director of Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, in an interview on Thursday. Imports will be sought immediately, he said.
Arrival of the corn from Ukraine will free up more locally grown white corn for human consumption, said Jacques Pienaar, an analyst at South Africa’s Commodity Insight Africa. Corn yields in Kenya this season have halved because of the drought, the National Drought Management Authority said on Feb. 6. The imports will cost $260 to $270 a ton if landed at the port of Mombasa, according to Pienaar. That would mean a total cost of about $119 million.
“It will basically help” ease pressure on white corn supplies, Pienaar said by phone. “It will definitely make a dent.”
Kenya may lift the import ban imposed on Uganda chicken and eggs in the next one week, after experts from the two countries met to assess the measures taken against an epidemic of bird flu.
This will, however, depend on the final tests carried out by a group of experts drawn from the two countries. They will conclude the exercise in the next one week. Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said the two teams are doing a risk assessment of the Avian flu outbreak in Uganda to determine if it has been contained.
Mr Bett did not confirm when the ban would be lifted, but officials told the Sunday Nation that it could be as early as this week. Kenya imposed the ban last month after a highly infectious strain of bird flu was reported in Uganda. But Uganda has assured Kenya that it has contained the outbreak, adding that most farms that export eggs to Kenya are located more than 10km from the quarantined area.
According to Mr Bett, the team will table its reports this week.
“Any further decision will be based on the team’s report. I’m happy that both parties acknowledged the danger posed by the disease and the need to work closely in arresting its spread,” said Mr Bett, who led a team from Kenya that met President Yoweri Museveni. Uganda’s Agriculture minister, Mr Vincent Ssempija, urged Kenya and other neighbouring countries not to worry about bird flu, adding that the situation was under control.
He said commercial poultry farms had been placed under strict surveillance. “These farms are located far from the 10km quarantine radius range around Lake Victoria. The commercial farms can produce safe poultry products for local and export markets,” said Mr Ssempija. On January 18, Kenya banned poultry imports from the neighbouring country following an outbreak of avian influenza.
At the time, Mr Bett said the government had taken adequate measures to secure Kenya from the viral infection. More than 32 million chicken in Kenya were said to be at risk of contracting the disease.
Kenya has been on high alert after the deadly viral disease was detected in dead birds worldwide. After the discovery, the Uganda Government activated its emergency plan for epidemics control after confirming one strain of the disease — one of three types that affect humans, animals and birds, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Avian flu is an infectious disease from birds and is caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. It can be transmitted to human beings, causing severe respiratory infections. The flu is characterised by a sudden onset of high fever, aching muscles, headache, severe sickness, non-productive cough and sore throat within two to five days, and up to 17 days, of infection.
In the very young, it can lead to pneumonia and death. It affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and occasionally the lungs. It is treatable with an antiviral drug called Tamiflu. Humans contract the disease through close contact with infected poultry or with objects contaminated by their faecal matter, according to WHO.
Kenya plans to import maize from Mexico to ease the current supply shortage that has seen the price of flour hit a five-year high, making it the first time in nine years that East Africa’s largest economy will be buying the staple from outside Africa.
Agriculture secretary Willy Bett said the Kenyan government has been in talks with its Mexican counterpart, who has confirmed the North American nation has enough stocks to supply the export market.
“We have looked around and established that Mexico is the one with sufficient white maize that can meet our needs. We shall be finalising the plans next week and decide the amount and timeline for the shipment,” Mr Bett said, even as he insisted that the consignment will be imported by gazetted millers in order to keep out traders who may want to make a killing from the crisis.
Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said his ministry was working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure all the required documents are in place to facilitate imports. Maize from outside East Africa is usually subject to import duty but the Treasury can waive the tax, especially in times of emergencies. Kenya has traditionally imported most of the grains it needs to bridge the deficit from Uganda and Tanzania.
But Tanzania has recently restricted export of maize while Uganda does not have enough supplies for exports, having had a poor harvest last season. In addition to its two East African neighbours, Kenya has imported maize from Malawi and Zambia, who have also restricted exports in the wake of poor harvest in the past two seasons. The poor harvests have been associated with harsh weather resulting from La Nina, which hit Southern Africa last year.
The ministries of Devolution, Agriculture and Treasury were last week working on a report that is expected to offer details on the planned importation. President Uhuru Kenyatta last week received a preliminary report on the drought situation and will be meeting the team on January 27 when the final document is expected to be ready. An acute shortage of maize in the country has in recent weeks seen the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour rise to more than USD1.10 (Sh113) in Nairobi and to highs of USD1.2 (Sh121) at Nakumatt supermarkets, up from USD.90c (Sh90) in January last year.
The maize flour price inflation crisis is underlined by the fact that as late as last month a 2kg packet retailed at an average of Sh97, meaning prices have shot up by about 10 per cent in just a month.
Kenya was last hit by a maize flour crisis in 2011 when a 2kg packet retailed at USD1.4 (Sh140) in the wake of a serious shortage of maize. This was the highest maize flour price to have been registered in a decade. Millers said the rapid rise in the price of maize flour was being driven by the fact that a 90kg bag of maize is now selling at USD34 (Sh3,400) compared to USD28 (Sh2,800) last year.
The government expects the number of those affected by hunger to rise from 1.5 million last October to two million at the end of this month. The Treasury plans to release Sh16 billion between February and July in support of those stricken by drought and the millions who are facing starvation. The government will release Sh9 billion between February and April in the second phase of response to the drought while additional Sh7 billion will be released between May and July.
Speaking last week, Mr Rotich said the Treasury might be forced to restructure the supplementary budget in order to allocate more funds to the fight against drought. “We are currently monitoring the situation and depending on the situation, we might have to direct more funds towards measures aimed at easing hunger on affected regions,” said Mr Rotich.
- Nation Media Kenya