Kenyan potato farmers lose millions after bumper harvest prompts price crash. Will maize follow?
My late dad must be turning in his grave with delighted surprise at the heights the price of maize has climbed to and feeling more than a little sad that what he had predicted and waited for, for so many years finally came to pass barely months after his final exit from this world (or as a friend so eloquently likes putting it—just months after hard drive crashed beyond restoration).
Yep, my dad was a serious maize farmer in his twilight years and loved every minute of it. But for years he struggled with the problem of maize politics which hungrily swallowed up his huge capital investment in his shambas and prevented him from enjoying the rewards of a good profit that surely every farmer deserves. I mean farming is extremely hard, and potentially back-breaking work.
Over the years every time it looked like prices of maize were snaking upwards the government would import plenty of iot and the prices would durifully come tumbling down.
It is because I can identify with the farmer on this one that I get sick of reading regular reports in the media calling for the prices of this basic commodity to drop down “back to sane levels.” So if I may ask what are the sane levels? Levels at which a farmer can hardly recoup his investment from planting the crop? And as I am sure most of my readers do not know, maize is even harder work than most other crops because after you have harvested you still have to get the grain out of the cob and then dry and preserve.
Admittedly Kenyans consume too much maize for the crop not to be political. And that is why the government has always been very nervous whenever prices of this basic commodity have threatened to head north. And yet in the same breadth the GOK (Government of Kenya) still wants to praise the long suffering local farmer for their resilience. Now it seems that patience has run out in farmers and the result is that many have opted to plant other more profitable crops. This is part of the contributing factor to the rapid climb of maize prices in recent times.
But let us not dwell too much on the past because the main concern for most, even as I sense your alarm after reading my last paragraph, is what the future holds for maize prices.
Just a few hours ago one of my informants in Western Kenya informed me that there is currently plenty of maize in Busia and it is selling at the throw-away price of Kshs 3/- per single maize cob. Sadly logistics do not make it viable for that maize to come to the rescue of millers on the verge of closing shop due to lack of maize supplies in places like Eldoret. Or in Kisumu where a bag of dry maize is now approaching the Kshs 5,000 mark. Don’t even mention distant Nairobi where there is the highest consumption of this commodity and all it’s byproducts but which is way too far from Busia. Busia is on the border with neighbouring Uganda.
The truth is that there is really no good news for the consumer. All the good news is for the long suffering maize farmer. There are many clues to suggest that the price is not coming down any time soon. The crash that has been witnessed with potato prices will definitely not be replicated with maize. One of the clear signals that prices are not coming down any time soon is the fact that the maize being imported to alleviate the big shortage in the country is said to have a Mombasa landing price of about kshs 3,700 per 90 kg bag.
The next harvest is expected in August and so September will be the month to study prices carefully in order to establish what the future may hold.
And so I repeat my advice to all you dear readers out there to venture out of the concrete jungle that is Nairobi and go into farming rather than keep hoping that the prices of Unga (produced from maize) will drop soon. I don’t see it happening.
Top ten maize producers in the world in 2009
Country Production (tonnes)
United States 333,010,910
South Africa 12,050,000
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