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Kenya import ban on Tanzanian maize and what it means for future of the sector

Kenya import ban on Tanzanian maize and what it means for future of the sector

THE Kenyan Agriculture and Food Authority on its letter to Commissioner of Customs, has last week issued a notice on stopping maize imports from Tanzania with immediate effect.

The grounds for this unprecedented measure were to curb cancerous mycotoxins which are “consistently beyond safety limits” the letter read.

Last year but one, Tanzania exported a total of 256,856 tons of maize and 165,840 tons – about 65 per cent – found its way to Kenya, bringing in 36 million US dollars.

Given the proximity of these two countries, it is possible that more of them crossed the border and these official data may not reveal everything as so many of them have been reaching through unofficial routes.

Kenyan importation trend have been a fluctuating one; in some years they go as low as 200,000 tons and there are times they shoot up to 1.2 million tons, but in all cases Tanzania have been the leading supplier of the crop to the drought-stricken country for the past ten years consecutively with exception to the year 2017 which saw our position being taken by Mexico which supplied 584,095 tons, South Africa (254,582 tons), and Ukraine (111,512 tons), thanks to our infamous decision to impose an export ban of raw corn.

If the Kenyan decision will stand it is likely that price of maize will decline further from the current 500 Shillings per kilo at Dar market to as low as 200 shillings or even lower. This will hit harder nearly 10 million farmers spread across the country and traders who do the cross border business.

So what is the reason behind this Kenya’s hostile move? It is hard to explicitly tell but circumstantial evidence can help one get to the source of this “ambush”. Tanzania and Kenya belong to the East Africa Community (EAC) – whose ultimate vision unlike some other blocs in the continent which are fixated on facilitating smooth trade is to form a political federation.

On the path towards that grander target, so many standards have been harmonised to reduce unnecessary collisions and in 2011 East Africa Standards Committee issued a number of standards including contaminants like Mycotoxin which was limited to 10 micro grams/kg.

Under these settings, country’s authority is trusted to conduct independent tests to establish compliance. What is believed is that maize grains purported to be tested by Kenyan authorities were tested in the first place Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS).

And if there were anomalies, in the spirit of the “Community” Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) was supposed to contact their counterpart in Tanzania to establish the findings before coming into a unilaterally imposed conclusion.

There are not information to the date of maize importation stoppage showing that there were such exchange of details. By 2019, Kenya’s production of maize was around 3.6 million tons and lacked nearly 1 million tons to fill its consumption gap.

With productivity level at 1.6 equal to Tanzania’s, it is unthinkable that in a span of one year, Kenya has managed to close that consumption gap and become self-sufficient. This again begs a question if this decision was really based on health or political or economic? It is hard to conclude.

Now that has happened already, there are a number of lessons we as a country can try draw; We are in a world of competition of agricultural trade, this understanding seem to lack from us big time.

In this context, you produce and trade knowing that some others are doing the similar stuff targeting the same market. Our decision to ban export ban in 2017 was a mistake as it taught Kenya and emboldened her that she can live off Mexico’s maize.

Even the decision to put a condition that only the processed ones were allowed was wrong, because progress is not imposed it is nurtured through malicious and targeted interventions. So the bottomline is that reliable markets needs to be kept and protected, but at the same time ensure diversity as opposed to depending on one single powerful market.

The 2017 Indian closure of Pigeon peas and Green gram had a lot to teach us on this subject, and if we will not solve the current impasse of Green grams glog – which are currently held in Mwanza, Shinyanga and Simiyu – and miss the importation deadline put in place by Indian Government on 31st March 2021, we might find ourselves in yet another shock of the year.

Therefore, it is highly anticipated that there will a retaliation from the Tanzanian side – which is a common practice in the international trade – and there a plethora of reasons to justify that some of which we have stated above, but as of now we have channel much of our energy in determining alternative markets available for the current maize crops.

Although we have to agree that it is going to be a tough job. Apart from Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi, we have a score of countries that usually imports this important food from us on annual basis. Zimbabwe which ascended in 2019 ordering around 100,000 tons from Tanzania – of which only 15,000 tons were delivered – bought 150,000 tons of the same from South Africa.

While that amount was a response to the worst drought and flooding and cyclone Idai that hit the southern country that year, Zimbabwe is a perennial importer even in normal years with import level nearing that of Kenya.

This is the time to employ charm offensiveness and court countries like Zimbabwe into abandoning their traditional suppliers like South Africa and Zambia by offering competitive prices. This will not solve an entire problem, but at least it will bring some form of relief.

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