Tanzanian exports to Kenya, which include maize, have exceeded imports for the first time in decades and now cereal producers in Kenya are worried that these imports could spell doom for food production in the long run.
“This country should not import what it can produce locally. Because we must not forget that for every metric tonne of grain or some other produce we import, we have in essence exported a few jobs,” said Anthony Kioko, the chief executive of the Cereals Growers Association (CGA).
The association is now calling for a review of bilateral and EAC protocols on food commodities.
According to data from Kenya’s agriculture ministry, the country imported maize valued at Ksh4.2 billion ($38.18 million) from Tanzania in 2019. In 2020, it imported about 277,350 tonnes of maize (3.1 million 90kg bags) with about 95 percent of this coming from Uganda and Tanzania. In January, Kenya imported over 450,000 bags (90kg) of maize from both Tanzania and Uganda and another 300,000 bags in February.
Uganda exports at least 90 percent of its maize to Kenya with a cumulative average of 330,620 tonnes.
Kioko fears that prolonged importation of foodstuffs and related produce, especially maize, has eroded the Kenyan tax base. “It means that it is not just loss of jobs but also erodes the government’s own tax base because enhanced local participation of various actors means more taxes to the government.”
Three months after President Samia Suluhu’s visit to Kenya, maize imports from Tanzania increased nearly six and a half times to 118,329, 90kg bags in May from 16,137, 90kg bags a month earlier, according to data from Kenya’s agriculture ministry.
Cereal growers and farmers from the North Rift fear the imports will lead to poor agricultural production. But, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Hamadi Boga defended the country’s move to import maize saying Kenya experiences maize deficit during the January-July period, which necessitates imports.
“Kenya’s annual production target has been 44 million 90kg bags or approximately 3.6 tonnes. This year it was 43 million bags. In 2020 it was 44 million bags. We do not import more than three million bags from the region,” said Prof Boga, adding, “This year, it is estimated that the country will need to import a similar amount to be food secure.”
But Kenyan farmers are worried that importation of maize, onions, vegetables, milk, sugar, which the country is capable of producing, should be dictated by market forces rather than bilateral agreements and East African Community protocols.
“Why are we so enthusiastic about the importation of everything? We import eggs from Uganda, beans from Ethiopia, fish from China, and the list is endless,” said Kipkorir Arap Menjo, director of the Kenyan Farmers Association, adding, “The excuse they are giving us is the EAC protocols. Can we renegotiate these protocols because I think they were negotiated by business men, who had no regard for farmers?”
“We only import during our lean period (February to July) and also when our local maize prices go beyond Ksh3,000 per 90Kg bag,” said Prof Boga, adding, “We also export mostly processed products to Tanzania.”