July 27th 2017

Top Stories / National

Are Kenyans ready to go for sorghum or millet in the absence of maize flour?

Besides, East Africa Malting Limited, an EABL subsidiary, has assured sorghum farmers of a ready market to use in the making of beer and keg, thus, benefiting the farmers mightily

By Derrick Kirakadkiraka@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 03 Jul 2017 15:10 EAT

With many Kenyans threatened by famine as the shortage of maize and to an extent crop failure due to uneven and inadequate rainfall, it is in the best interest of the food security of this country that we realize that while maize is the staple food crop in the country, it should not be the only option and delve into alternative crops for subsistence and commercial use.

Despite the government subsidy on maize flour, the commodity is still largely missing on many store shelves across the country, with the few stores that have it selling it at astronomical prices, too high for the common Kenyan.

A spot check by this author in three stores in Kangemi revealed that while many stores got  fresh maize supplies on Saturday night, come Sunday morning, the shelves were depleted with many retailers selling the maize flour between Sh120 and Sh150.

The current shortage was spoken of last year, when the millers warned that owing to the drought that was predicted, there would be shortage of maize grain this year. Why then, did the policy makers not take steps to ensure that the current maize crunch was not averted?

Following the arrival of a fresh import of maize consignment on June 30th, CS Willy Bett, who was on hand to receive the batch, announced that the government would identify the millers to allocate the maize to for processing.

“We have set some conditions and will work with those who meet them. We are aware that whenever there is a program for government subsidy, some businesspeople take advantage to make more money but this will not happen.” The CS said when he received the maize.

Meanwhile, a dispute could be simmering between the Ministry and the millers as small-scale millers accuse the government of discriminatory distribution of the commodity which has led to the shortage of the flour. Western Kenya small millers faulted the government for supplying them with just 32,000 bags while their counterparts in central Kenya got 153,000 bags.

These complaints came even as the government, through CS Bett said on Saturday that it would identify posho mills to be allocated the imported maize for processing but millers from the Western Kenya bloc cried foul, saying that they were receiving an average daily supply of 400 bags against a demand of 1000 bags.

As this rages on, there is a section of farmers who decry the government’s move to import the cereal, saying that it is destabilising the industry.

With this in mind, it therefore goes without saying that the current food crisis, and more precisely unga shortage, seems to portend a bleak  future for Kenyans in general but does it need to? As an agricultural nation with a vast food basket, we should be exploring options available to us.

Sorghum can be looked at as an alternative source of food for the country. Despite the shortage experienced last year owing to, in no small measure, the lack of large farmer interest in the commodity, the crop has picked up once more after the East Africa Breweries Limited (ABL) promised to buy it from farmers, which means that the government could take advantage of the renewed interest in the crop to make it one of the major food crops in the country. It is largely drought-resistant and has a short maturation period. This will allow Kenyans explore other delicacies and add some variety to the local cuisine.

Besides,  East Africa Malting Limited, an EABL subsidiary, has assured sorghum farmers of a ready market to use in the making of beer and keg, thus, benefiting the farmers mightily.

Millet is a crop whose cultivation is experiencing a drop yet millet, owing to its drought resistant nature, is a crop that can do well at this time of erratic weather patterns. The types of millet found in Kenya are Bulrush, Finger, Foxtail and Proso, with the most popular being Finger millet. Currently, millet is grown mostly for subsistence use despite the fact that it has the potential to be a consistent income earner. According to an article by sokodirectories.com, last year, a 90 kg bag of finger millet cost Sh7,200, meaning that if embraced, it could be a source of income to the millet farmers.

Rice is a crop that is also in plentiful supply in the country, with it being a staple in many cultures the world over.

In a country with a pool, perhaps even an ocean, of agricultural options, it is a unfortunate that we are experiencing a food crunch while being surrounded by food.  The excuse that crops such as sorghum and millet lack a mainstream market does not wash. A market for a product is, after all, created. If the product serves a purpose, the populace will embrace it. At this time of the maize shortage, the chain, from the policy makers down to the farmers down to the consumers should explore alternative sources of food.

The maize shortage looks likely to take some time as farmers and the government seek to find  stability so it is wise that Kenyans don’t get caught up in the maize melee and forget that there are plenty of options.

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