Greenpeace Africa has praised the High Court’s decision to halt maize imports into Kenya.

This, the organisation says, gives the government a chance “to reconsider its decision and make the right choices by prioritising smallholder farmers, who are reeling under the effects of the (coronavirus) pandemic”.

Mr Amos Wemanya, Greenpeace Africa’s campaigner, said in a statement issued in Nairobi: “The government’s plan to import maize at a time when local farmers are struggling to cope with challenges presented by floods, locusts and Covid-19 was ill-advised.” 

He added: “The High Court suspension gives the government a chance to reconsider its decision and make the right choices.” 

The court suspended the plan to import four million bags of maize to avert a possible food crisis after the decision was challenged by Nairobi activist Okiya Omtatah.

In her ruling, Justice Pauline Nyamweya issued the directive in a case challenging the National Treasury’s decision to allow private millers to import dry maize.

Mr Omtatah had challenged the decision in notice No 3234 dated April 17, published in a special issue of the Kenya Gazette, arguing the maize does not meet the East African Community’s standards.

He added in his suit that Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani and Attorney-General Paul Kihara Kariuki should have recommended the standards set by the EAC Customs Management Act, which are accepted by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

Greenpeace Africa said it had on several occasions called upon Agriculture CS Peter Munya to prioritise local farmers, who are at the forefront of cushioning Kenyans against hunger instead of importing subsidised maize.

Mr Wemanya said: “Cheap importation of subsidised maize reduces the market for local maize produced by mainly smallholders, who feed Kenyans. This leaves many farmers and workers in the agricultural related industries without a source of income.” 

Mr Omtatah had claimed in his suit that the notice stipulated importation of maize whose aflatoxin levels don’t exceed 10 parts per million instead of the required standard of 10 parts per billion, which would be 1,000 times higher than what the law permits.

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He added that the notice specified that the imported maize should have a moisture content not exceeding 14.5 per cent, yet the EAC sets a maximum of 13.5 per cent safety for human consumption.

Mr Wemanya lauded Mr Omtatah saying that Kenyans had been exposed to food safety risks before. 

“Greenpeace Africa lauds the move by Okiya Omtatah to challenge the government’s decision to import maize. Going by the specifications in the gazette notice, the maize to be imported could present food safety issues.”

He urged the government to support local food systems to build a resilient food system.

“The government needs to reverse the growing reliance on imports. Policies that focus on supporting markets regulated by local communities, building and managing food storage capacity for future needs and improvement of local infrastructure to enable farmers to get their produce to markets shall help build a resilient food system.”

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