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Kenya consumers battle with high maize prices amid low imports

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Consumers in Kenya have to dig deeper into their pockets to buy maize, whose prices have hit a new high amid decline in cross-border imports from neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda.

A 90kg bag of the staple widely consumed across the East African nation is currently going for between 30 U.S. dollars and 39 dollars in different urban areas.

Prices are lower in the breadbasket regions of the Rift Valley while highest in the capital Nairobi, where a 90kg bag is going at 39 dollars. On the other hand, the cost of a 2kg pack of maize flour has hit 1.1 dollars, up from one dollar mid last month.

Dealers are blaming the surge in prices from an average of 25 dollars last October to low supply both from within and across the borders.

Maize production in the breadbasket declined to 16 million bags last season from 21 million, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, due to erratic rains, diseases and high cost of inputs like fertiliser, which compelled some farmers to forego it.

However, of all the factors, poor rains hit farmers most. Sometime in July last year, the rains disappeared after many farmers had top-dressed their crops leading to fertiliser burning the plants because it could not be absorbed into the soil to release nutrients.

"Maize is slowly turning out to be gold because it is becoming hard to come by. I am buying my stock from a dealer in Nakuru at 30 dollars per 90kg bag, which is 5 dollars higher as compared to other years. Prices should need not be higher at this time," Simon Mwangi, a trader in Nairobi, said Wednesday.

From across the borders, data from the East African Grain Council, shows that imports at various border points have dwindled to negligible levels.

For instance, at the Busia border in western Kenya, imports from Uganda currently stand at between nil and 10 metric tonnes (MT) each day, down from a high of 200 MT months ago.

Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in Kitale, western Kenya, noted that besides low imports from neighbouring countries, the current shortage has been exacerbated by the premium price the government offered farmers making many sell their maize to the cereals board for keep in the strategic reserves.

"Last year the government bought maize at 30 dollars per bag, up from 26 dollars luring most farmers to its side but the move destabilised the market. With low imports, prices will continue going up," he said.

Kenya is maize deficit, with the country consuming up to four million 90kg bags a month, but produces an average of 40 million bags during the long-rains season. It further imports every year about 20 million bags to bridge the gap.

The East African nation’s inflation stood at 6.35 percent in December, a marginal decline from 6.68 percent, but despite the drop, food inflation rose 1.3 percent during the month and 11 percent in the last one year due to increase in prices of various commodities.



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