Kenya: State told to allow duty-free maize

A key think tank on the economy has advised the government to allow importation of maize duty-free to stop the current food shortage.

The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in its recommendations at the end of a two-day meeting in Nairobi on Saturday said importation of maize will ensure the staple food is available to all Kenyans.

The council also identified the food crisis, caused by crop failure and the post-election violence, as one of the major shocks to the economy.

NESC is mandated to propel Kenya into a middle-income economy status in 22 years' time as spelt out in the economic blueprint called Vision 2030. The government recently declared the food shortage a national emergency and made an international appeal for food.

At least 10 million people face starvation across the country and currently depend on food donations from the government and agencies.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been chairing the forum at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, said calling for duty-free importation of maize did not mean that they were ignoring local farmers.

What we have is a shortfall of maize in the country, Mr Odinga said while briefing the press on recommendations the council made to the government.

Members of the council are local and international experts, cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries and other technocrats.
The council also advised the government to address the cost of fertilisers, seeds and other farm inputs, and to avoid overdependence on rain-fed agriculture. It recommended that the government consider harnessing rain water for irrigation.

The country should also embrace modern technology for high-yielding and drought-resistant crops. The council further urged the government to resolve the current energy crisis, which has led to increased costs of fuel and electricity. The energy crisis, it noted, has discouraged investment.

To regulate petrol prices, the council proposed that the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK), a state corporation, should set prices for the oil market. Mr Odinga noted that currently, prices are set by cartels, which have been exploiting Kenyans.

There is also a need for the government to invest in renewable energy such as solar and wind due to the high cost of electricity, the council said. The government, it further suggested, should explore other sources of electricity such as maritime and nuclear energy.

The council said Kenya faced the risk of losing investors to other countries like South Africa and Egypt owing to the high cost of doing business, and asked the government to create an investor-friendly environment.

Without investors, a country cannot grow economically. Look at China for example. Because of cheap labour, foreign investors have flocked there and it is now one of the major economies of the world, Mr Odinga said.

This was the council's 15th meeting since it was formed in 2004. The recommendations will be handed over to President Kibaki for implementation. – Sunday Nation

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