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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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A major crisis over maize supply looms and it requires quick, strategic and bold intervention.

Maize business is fraught with challenges ranging from corrupt deals involving government officials and entrenched cartels to artificial shortage to force up prices and political meddling, making it a vexed matter.

Understandably, that is the reason Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri has publicly declared that he was not in a hurry to sign off maize imports.

He argues that he could burn his fingers as he may not comprehend the full implications of any decision he is being asked to make.

In itself, that is a damning admission by a top government official that the maize trade is a jungle market where rules never apply.

And that should worry Kenyans. It means the efforts that we have been told were being put in place to streamline the maize trade have been vain.

But the fact is, there is shortage of maize that is attributed to depressed supply arising from poor rains in the previous years.

Matters have been made worse by the fact that, even this season, the rains came late and delayed planting, meaning harvests, which projections indicate may not be plentiful, will be long in coming.

The latest reports indicate that several millers have closed shop for lack of maize. The Strategic Food Reserve, which keeps supply and releases grains to the market in times of need, is deeply understocked.

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Figures from the Agriculture ministry show that the reserve has only 1.5 million bags of maize, while the millers are holding about 700,000 bags; yet, the monthly national consumption is 3.3 million bags. The shortage is bound to worsen.

In the circumstance, the option is to allow for imports. But that is an intricate matter. From past experience, that is to open the floodgates for illegal stuff that ends up clogging the market.

All these, however, are self-inflicted crises. Kenya has great potential to grow enough maize for local consumption and surplus for export.

But this is stifled by poor agriculture policies and practices. And in the event of good harvest, the produce is mismanaged through poor marketing, distribution and storage.

The National Cereals and Produce Board, which is mandated to buy the crop and distribute it, is a disgrace.

Pricing policies enforced by government on an ad hoc basis are populist and only hurt farmers.

Large-scale irrigation-led farming projects by the government have come a cropper — like Galana Kulalu.

We ask Mr Kiunjuri to quickly make a decision that will stabilise maize supply as we demand better and proactive strategies to resolve this perennial crisis.

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