Saturday, January 10, 2009



January 9 2009

One in every three Kenyans is in danger of starvation due to crop failure and the Government plans to declare the food shortage a national emergency.

The 10 million Kenyans who are suffering food shortages include 1.5 million children under the school feeding programme, 2.5 million people suffering from various diseases including HIV and Aids and orphans, and further 2.5 million poor people in towns.

President Kibaki chaired a Cabinet committee meeting on food security at his Harambee House office on Friday, where it was decided that importation of five million bags of maize should start.

The food shortage were partly caused by the post-election violence, which affected the country’s bread basket districts in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, but is also due to drought in Eastern, parts of Central, Coast and North Eastern provinces.

Maize harvested in Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza should be entering the national food chain from this month, but because of the disruption of ploughing, the burning of food in stores and the fact that people were prevented from planting during the violence early last year, has contributed to the shortage.

Added to this, the crucial long rains were inadequate in most places and the short rains failed altogether in some districts.

At Friday’s meeting, an inter-ministerial committee was set up to immediately start working out ways of executing the national emergency.

They will include providing relief food — mostly maize and beans — to those affected.

The Government, through the Ministry of Livestock, will provide an emergency loan of Sh500 million to the Kenya Meat Commission for purchase of livestock from areas that have been hit hard by the drought.

Hay is also to be given to livestock herders in the most severely affected areas.

Measures are also to be taken to provide water in areas that are suffering an acute shortage.

President Kibaki told the food security committee that the entire Government must focus on the urgency of providing food to all Kenyans after rains failed for the past two seasons and a drop in production occasioned by last year’s post-election challenges.

The meeting brought together the ministries of Agriculture, Water and Irrigation, Finance, Livestock Development and Internal Security.

Among the strategies adopted by the Government to ensure sufficient food in the country include importation of duty free maize up to the next major harvest season.

The Cabinet has already authorised importation of five million bags of maize to bridge the maize deficit in the country.

Agriculture minister William Ruto said the Government would import two million bags of maize, while the rest would be brought to the country through the private sector.

The five million bags of maize would be imported in the next five months, added Mr Ruto.

In addition, the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture intends to boost maize production this year by increasing extension services and availability of fertilizers.

The Ministry of Agriculture has already procured 15,000 tonnes of fertilizer being sold to farmers at a subsidised price.

The ministry, through the National Cereals and Produce Board, has also ordered 40,000 tonnes of assorted fertilizers, which will be available to farmers during the long rains.

The ministry is also in the process of procuring another 73,000 tonnes of fertilizers for the long and short rains this year. In addition, the ministry will distribute about 6,000 tonnes of fertilizer to poor farmers free of charge.

The ministry, through the Kenya Seed Company, has also reduced the price of seed by Sh5 for each five kilos.

The ministry will distribute about 25,000 tonnes of seed of orphan crop to farmers free of charge in arid and semi-arid areas.

On land preparation, the Ministry of Agriculture has reviewed all its agricultural machinery services and procured a total of 90 new tractors to making ploughing affordable.

These tractors will be used in addition to another 85 from the Agricultural Development Corporation.

The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Cabinet Ministers Ruto, Naomi Shaban, Charity Ngilu, George Saitoti and Dr. Mohammed Kuti, Assistant Minister Oburu Odinga, who represented Acting Finance Minister John Michuki, and Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura, among others.

“The government in conjunction with development partners is carrying out an assessment in this emergency situation,” said Mr Ruto.

The minister said there were about 12.6 million bags of maize in the grain reserves and an additional three million bags expected to be harvested from the last and current seasons’ harvest.

But following rain failure, especially in the Eastern part of the country, there is a deficit of 10 million bags of maize.

The minister said that the Government had provided fertilizer and maize seed to farmers but that they have gone to waste after the short rains failed.

As a result, most parts of the country are already experiencing food and water shortages, he said.

Of the 10 million Kenyans facing starvation, some three million live in arid and semi-arid areas, two million of them are poor and affected by the HIV and Aids, while some three million live in slums and the outskirts of towns.

He added that some 150,000 internal refugees are also affected by the food shortage.

The minister, was accompanied by Livestock assistant Minister Aden Duale, permanent secretaries Patrick Khaemba and Romano Kiome.

He said that the Government had made provisions for Kenyans to buy repackaged 20kg and 10kg bags of maize from selected centres across the country.

This, he said, would reach Kenyans faster than the maize flour which the Government had contacted factories to mill.
He said the packages would be sold at Sh400 and Sh200 for the 20 kg and 10kg bags respectively.

To boost crop production this year, Mr Ruto said plans had been made for farmers to buy fertilizer at Sh3,000 for the next planting season.

He said the fertilizer was already available in some parts of the country.

The Government’s move to license the private sector to import maize duty-free has in the past hit a snag when those shortlisted failed to turn up for a scheduled meeting at Kilimo House.

The shortlisted companies, most of them millers, including Mombasa Millers, Kisumu Millers and Unga Ltd, had earlier engaged the Government in a heated debate on the rationale of them paying for the bid to import while the National Cereals and Produce Board would import and the maize at subsidised rates.

Boycotted meeting

The two groups then agreed to meet the following day to iron out the outstanding issues, a meeting they boycotted.
A total of 17 companies had been shortlisted to bid for 11 rights to import maize.

Each right guarantees the importer to bring into the country 25,000 tonnes of maize and only two rights were allowed to each of them.

This meant that a total of 275,000 tonnes were to be imported.

The shortlisted companies later learnt that they were to import and either mill or sell the maize.

It is at that point that they questioned the rationale to pay for the rights.

“Otherwise, we could as well import and wait for prices to improve before we sell. If not, who will buy from us if the NCPB will sell its maize at subsidised prices,” asked one of the shortlisted companies.

Speaking to the Saturday Nation yesterday Palma Fernades of the Cereal Millers Association said the factories found it was not economical to bid for importing the maize since the Government’s reserve price was lower than world prices.

“The reserve price was $260 (Sh20,020) while the international price was $290 (Sh22,330). The millers resolved that the Government can import and supply to them at Sh1,750 to mill and sell flour at the subsided price,” said Mr Fernades.

Only one company turned up for the meeting that day and was awarded the maximum two rights. That means only 50,000 tonnes of maize will be imported.

Report by Eric Shimoli and Sam Kiplagat