The government’s move to release some 2.6 million of bags of maize from the strategic reserve into the market is an appropriate intervention that should cushion the public against the rising cost of maize flour. With this, the supply of the commodity should stabilise and in turn, millers and traders ought to extend the relief by lowering costs to benefit consumers. The rising price of maize flour is a potentially explosive social matter and must be checked.
Maize production has been problematic in the past few years because of erratic and low rainfall, mismanagement of the maize sector, corruption, poor distribution and marketing. Wheeler-dealers have made the situation worse through dubious deals, forcing an artificial shortage to allow them to import maize and sell it at prohibitive prices.
Corruption and mismanagement of public resources have particularly killed agriculture. For example, the government invested some Sh7.3 billion in Galana-Kulalu on the Coast to irrigate and grow crops and increase food sufficiency. Now, that has turned into a massive failure that has sunk billions but without returns. Further, the government undertook to build dams in various parts of the country to provide water for irrigation. All have collapsed.
Two of the dams — Arror and Kimwawer in Elgeyo-Marakwet — have turned out to be monumental disasters, consuming Sh21 billion but without anything to show. Strangely, the government has earmarked additional funds for it in the proposed budget for the next financial year that begins in July, raising questions about prudence in management of public resources. Itare Dam in Kuresoi in Nakuru County is another tragedy that has sunk billions without commensurate returns. In effect, plans put in place to raise food production have flopped, leaving the citizens to their own devices.
Yet, the country has the capacity to feed itself. The North Rift and other parts of the country are able to grow sufficient maize and other food crops to sustain the nation. Even with erratic rains, there are strategies that can be deployed to boost production and ensure food security.
However, several obstacles are created to kill crop production and push farmers out of business. These must be dealt with. For instance, the National Cereals and Produce Board, which has been at the centre of corruption and mismanagement, must be cleaned up and restructured to serve farmers and manage strategic reserves. Also, it is critical to support farmers to deal with post-harvest storage and market their produce. For now, the challenge is for Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and his team to put in place proper systems and monitor the distribution of the maize, lock out mercenaries and ensure the stock benefits consumers.