Kenyan Maize Crisis leads to Food Aid Proposals

  • Published on February 27th, 2009

cooking maizeKenya’s government has decided to allow free import and sales of maize (corn) to ensure there are enough supplies to get the drought and violence hit country through the next few months.

A prolonged dry spell, verging on drought, has left a third of the population, about ten million people, requiring food aid. This is now considered a national emergency. Until this week,  importers had to be approved by the agriculture ministry before being allowed to bring in maize and millers had to register with the ministry to be licensed to buy maize from the national cereals board and convert it to cornmeal. Kenya has recently imported more than  22,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa, but this is a small percentage of the amount it will need to replace the crops destroyed in 2008’s post-election violence.

Food rotted while people rioted

Some crops were burned, and many storage facilities and shops were looted, often losing seed crops for the following years harvest. Many small farmers, particularly those producing high value soft fruits such as passion fruit, were unable to get their harvest to market because of blockades or curfews and so had to feed their crop to livestock or allow it to rot. Now, with the cost of maize flour doubling in less than a year and with corn meal being a staple in Kenyan cuisine, the food aid programme is becoming an necessity even for the middle-classes.

It’s not only the post-election crisis that’s caused the problem: just as in the rest of the world, rising fuel costs have given Kenyan farmers a headaches. In 2008, diesel was 60 shillings (0.98 dollar) per litre – this month it’s 100 shillings (1.63 dollars) a litre with no sign of the price dropping.

Failing crops could destabilise a fragile region

With stem rust already damaging Kenya’s second largest cereal crop: wheat, this once powerful economy, proud of its links to the new American president, is starting to look as damaged and in need of help as its fragile neighbours.

Maize cooking courtesy of Luigig at Flickr under a creative commons licence

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