Pain of importing commodities, and how it’s killing agribusiness

Over the past few years, Kenya’s neigh – bours have been aggressively carrying out what experts call ‘predatory pricing’ on special commodities and crops, and edging out local traders and farmers. From rice, maize, eggs, onions, to most recently, fish imports, several of the once-booming agribusiness sectors now appear headed for shut – downs after years of underdevelop – ment and weak policies.

Even international trade partners such as China have joined the band – wagon, with its fish exports hitting $18 million last year. The growing imports are hurting local farmers, traders and processors, pilling more pressure on the delicate food security system.

But, why do we have to import, for example, onions? Expensive farm inputs fuelled by high taxation on imported agrochemi – cals, seeds, and fertiliser, among other inputs, have led to meagre returns from harvests, say experts. High cost of production, especially in poultry, that includes electricity, water, feeds, labour and fuel, have made Kenya an eggs-importing country.

Many Kenyans now buy cheaper eggs from Uganda for consumption and re-sale despite the country’s huge population of more than 32 million birds. Traders prefer importing from Tanzania, South Africa and Israel. In Uganda, the cost of chicken feeds is lower.

A thriving poultry industry in Uganda has been aided by subsidised poultry drugs and vaccines, making it attractive to small-scale farmers. Cotton seed cake, sunflower and groundnut cake and waste from rice and omena, are nutritious poultry feeds.

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A one-day-old chick in Kenya costs almost Ksh100, and an equivalent of between Ksh50 and Ksh60 in Uganda and Tanzania.

In Kenya, a tray of eggs sells at be – tween Ksh280 and Ksh300, while in Uganda a similar quantity goes for between Ksh190 and Ksh220.These attractive prices have lured Kenyans across the borders. Kenya imports poultry and eggs from Uganda worth more than Ksh50 million a year both through formal and informal channels.

Although maize, the staple food, is the most traded commodity across the region, followed by dry beans, rice and sorghum, the market, it appears, is slowly warming to onions and fish.

In early 2016, Tanzania, Egypt and other onion-producing countries had taken over the Kenyan market, with Tanzania supplying more than 50 per cent of the product.

A year later, Tanzanian onions started flooding Kenya’s largest onion producing county of Nyeri. Traders in the county soon opted for the imported onions because they are cheaper and sold in bulk unlike the local produce that is packaged in kilogrammes.

Tanzanians sell onions in gunny bags. A 2015 report by USAId indicated that despite the strength of the private seed sector, seed availability remained a challenge. Farmers growing onions are faced with the high cost of hybrid seeds.

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The cheapest hybrid onion seeds per kilogramme go for Sh10, 000. And with an acre requiring three kilogrammes, this is a tall order for most Kenyan farmers. In Kenya, only varieties with lower

 

day-length needs can be grown. Suitable varieties, include Jambar F1(for size and high yield) or Red Pas – sion F1, Bombay Red and Red Pinoy (they have lower yields but are in high demand and fetch a high price).

Tanzanian farmers use locally bred onion seeds (Mang’ola seeds). Kenyan farmers can restore the dwindling yields through better onion growing practices, use of high-yield – ing highbred seeds, and marketing to keep away brokers.

In September last year, the government started importing fish from Chi – na to meet the widening deficit.

According to then Fisheries Principal Secretary Micheni Ntiba, there is an annual deficit of 800,000 tonnes. The per capita consumption of fish has gone up to seven kilogrammes from two kilogrammes in 2008.

The import craze that engulfed the country last year poses a grave threat to the livelihoods of men and women who spend nights on Lake Victoria to bring in the catch. Agents who buy China’s fish in bulk are making a killing from restaurants and hotels. “We do not have an alternative to fish imports,” Prof Ntiba told the media.

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The shortage is expected to persist as Lake Victoria continues to suffer from depleted stocks, illegal fishing, the choking water hyacinth, and middlemen that have made local fish costlier.

Also, Kenya has yet to attain the full potential in fishing in the Indian Ocean. Due to lack of appropriate fishing gear, fishermen cannot explore the allowed 200 nautical miles under the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Kenyans only operate in below five nautical miles. Interestingly, Kenya also exports fish, mainly the Nile Perch.

Data from the Kenya National Bu – reau of Statistics shows that fish pro – duction registered a depressed performance for the second consecutive year in 2016, with the output dropping by 12.1 per cent from 146,300 tonnes in 2015 to 128,600 tonnes in 2016.

This deficit saw Chinese fish ex – ports to Kenya rise to $11.4 million, from $10 million in 2016, raising concern over the fate of local fishermen and traders.

However, all is not lost for the fishing industry. Measures such as the promotion of aquaculture through the Economic Stimulus Programme have enabled fish production to grow from 1,000 tonnes a year to about 22,000 tonnes in 2016.

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