Are Mexican farmers reaping from Kenya’s maize crisis, as opposition chief said?

Raila Odinga, Kenya's main opposition candidate, claimed that foreign maize farmers are benefiting at the expense of Kenyan growers following a food crisis. We weighed up the evidence.

A sharp increase in the price of consumer maize has helped set Kenya’s inflation on its way to a 5-year high of 11.7%. This catapulted the issue into the thick of a keenly-contested August national election.

On being cleared to vie by the Electoral Commission, opposition chief Raila Odinga sought to gain control of the public narrative around the staple.

Speaking at the capital city’s Jacaranda grounds at the end of May, Odinga said that policies to arrest the crisis benefited foreign farmers. This included the waiving of tax duties on grain imports.

“Last year farmers asked [President] Uhuru [Kenyatta] and [deputy president William] Ruto to pay KSh3,200 per bag. They refused. Now they are paying Mexican farmers KSh4,600,” Odinga said.

‘Why are you asking us the obvious?’

Contacted for the source of Odinga’s figures, his spokesman Dennis Onyango told Africa Check that they were in the public domain.

“Because the price of that maize was publicly stated, then why are you asking us the obvious? We stand by what he said, that the maize is costing KSh4,600 (US$44.5) per bag. We also stand by what we were saying the Rift Valley farmers were asking for,” he said.

He added that Odinga’s party had a department that monitored agricultural issues, which he said was headed by Kipkorir Arap Menjo, the director of the Kenya Farmers Association.

Farmers received the price they protested for

In October 2016, farmers in Kenya’s north Rift Valley region, which is the country’s grain basket, went to the streets demanding better prices for their produce.

In Kenya, the government plays a role in ensuring producers make a profit by buying some of their crop, especially when there is a glut at harvest time. The agency tasked to do so is the National Cereals and Produce Board, which manages strategic food reserves.

The protest achieved its aim, Menjo – who led the march – told Africa Check.

“We had a big demonstration in Eldoret [city] because we wanted the government to increase the prices from KSh2,300 to KSh3,000 for maize,” Menjo said. (Note: Prices are for a 90 kg bag.)

“The government first raised it to KSh2,800 and then during the [Agricultural Society of Kenya] show, the deputy president announced that they will now buy at KSh3,000. We got what we wanted”.

Placards at the protest back up Menjo’s claim that farmers demanded KSh3,000 for every bag of maize.

Subsidised price available to anyone

Is the government now paying Mexican farmers KSh4,600 (US$44.5) per bag?

Following the removal of import duty, there was a national controversy over how speedily the first shipment of maize reached Kenyan shores. Authorities said that the consignment, which arrived on 12 May, was a surplus which had been initially imported by South Africa from Mexico.

Shortly thereafter, when Kenya’s cabinet secretary for agriculture announced a subsidy, Willy Bett stated that maize sold for an average of KSh4,620 per bag in the country.

Data from the East African Grain Council, an industry body, reflects maize prices of between KSh4,800 to KSh5,500 during that time.

On 18 May, agriculture principal secretary Richard Lesiyampe told lawmakers that government had negotiated with importing firms to buy their grain at KSh3,600 for a 90 kg bag. It then sold this on to millers at a subsidised price of KSh2,300.

The chairman of the Cereal Millers Association, Nick Hutchinson, confirmed these prices. “The government is selling us maize at Ksh2,300 and they bought the maize from the traders that had it at Sh3,600 off the vessels,” he said.

The subsidised price was available to anyone – including Kenyan farmers – selling maize to the National Cereals and Produce Board, Lesiyampe said.

Conclusion: Government is paying everyone KSh3,600 per bag, not KSh4,600

As he officially kickstarted his campaign, opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed that foreign farmers were reaping from Kenya’s debilitating food crisis.

He said that authorities had turned down local farmers’ demands for KSh3,200 for a 90 kg bag of maize, but were now paying KSh4,600 to import the grain from Mexico.

But this is incorrect, as the highest price farmers sought for a bag of maize in October 2016 was KSh3,000, not KSh3,200 as Odinga said. Their demands were also met, the farmers’ leader told Africa Check.

Furthermore, the government is currently paying KSh3,600 per bag to local farmers and importers alike.

Edited by Lee Mwiti


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