Kenya makes U-turn, now wants maize from Uganda

Maize dealers offload maize that was meant for export to Kenya  at Busia market after Kenya imposed a ban on importation of maize from Uganda on March 9, 2021. PHOTO | DAVID AWORI

Kenya has said it is engaging authorities in Uganda to increase the share of maize it imports to mitigate a surge in flour prices. 

The move, which also seeks to ease inflationary pressures that have increased to 7.9 percent, comes as a U-turn after in 2020 Kenya blocked maize imports from Uganda on claims they contained high aflatoxins.

Reports indicate, already a number of Kenyan traders are in the country combing for maize supplies going as far as buying ungraded maize from gardens. 

Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has been quoted saying, they had opened talks with Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia to guarantee Kenya a share of maize exports to plug shortfalls. 

“We are now talking to these countries to have them set aside some stocks of maize to be purchased by our traders to boost supply locally,” he said, noting that crop failure due to poor weather and a shift in the movement of Uganda’s maize to South Sudan have seen flour prices in Kenya increase to Shs6,707.4 (Ksh210) for a two-kilo packet, up from Shs3,832.8 (Ksh120) at the start of the year.

Asked about the development, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, who since becoming Agriculture Minister been part of trade negotiations to lift blockades on Ugandan goods said in a brief statement: “This is why we need honest trade partnerships”.

The bulk of Uganda’s maize is now exported to South Sudan, encouraged by higher prices in the country which sell at about Shs222,000. 

This was a shift in which the bulk of Uganda’s maize export had been going to Kenya, before unexplained blockades had been instituted by authorities in one of Uganda’s largest trade partner. 

Ms Harriet Nabirye, the Grain Council manager for member services, said they had been made aware that there was a team of Kenyans collecting ungraded grain from the farms, noting  that this was dangerous in regard to quality assurance. 

This, she said, is being done without any contractual obligations, which also creates a distortion in pricing. 

“We want government to help us to solve this issue so that whoever wants to buy maize follows  the right procedures,” she said. 

Countries in East Africa are competing for a limited white maize stock for human consumption and manufacturing of animal feeds following disruption in the supply of grain from Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the ongoing war.