by Ben Taylor
Kenya-Tanzania dispute over maize imports
In early March, the Government of Kenya announced a ban with immediate effect on the importation of maize from Tanzania and Uganda. The ban was lifted the following week, though not before causing considerable strain on diplomatic relations, and with exports subject to strict conditions.
On March 5th, the acting Director-General of Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority, Kello Harsama, directed that the imports should stop after a survey found that maize from the two countries is not fit for human consumption.
“The authority has been conducting surveillance on the safety of food imports into Kenya. The results from maize imported from Uganda and Tanzania have revealed high levels of mycotoxins that are consistently beyond safety limits,” she said in a letter to Kenya’s tax authorities.
Long queues of trucks were seen over the following days at the Namanga border post after the Kenya Revenue authority denied the trucks entry into Kenya.
Tanzania’s deputy minister of Agriculture, Hussein Bashe, said the Government of Tanzania is taking the ban of maize imports seriously. “We are closely monitoring the ban and I can assure business people and the general public that the government will continue to protect its interests,” he said.
Aflatoxins, the form of mycotoxin reportedly found in this case, are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain fungi and can be found on a variety of different crops and foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits and coffee beans, often spread during storage and under warm and humid conditions. Aflatoxins are capable of causing disease including cancer.
Mr Bashe who was accompanied by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) director general, Yussuf Ngenya, said no official communication has been made to the country.
He said even in the event of one or two incidents the Kenyan government should not draw conclusions to the entire maize industry without involving a wide range of institutions that should communicate during challenges. He added that since Tanzania and Kenya are EAC members their differences should be resolved through procedures governing the regional body instead of tarnishing the image of Tanzania’s produce.
Kenyan millers also faulted the government over the blanket ban, arguing the move will have a serious implication on the price of flour. The processors argued that the government should have only intercepted the maize that has high-levels of aflatoxin and allowed those that meet the set standards to be imported.
By March 11th, the Kenyan government relaxed the ban, but instead introduced tough new restrictions on maize imports. All stakeholders dealing in maize imports into Kenya would be required to be registered, consignments must be accompanied with a certificate of conformity on toxin levels and that traders have to issue details of their warehouses. The certificate of conformity should indicate that the aflatoxin levels comply with the maximum required levels of 10 parts per billion.
“While we strive to give Kenya safe food by addressing the challenge in production system, we equally expect our trading partners to trade safe maize as per the East African Community (EAC) standards,” said Mr Angolo, Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary of Agriculture.
Locust alarm in Longido
Farmers and residents of Longido District, Arusha, were thrown into panic in February when their farms were invaded by locusts. The pests, which attacked crops with devastating effects , were first seen in Namanga on the Kenya-Tanzania border and later crossed over into Tanzania.
Longido District Commissioner Frank Mwaisumbe said the locusts spread to many parts of the district. He said he had already contacted regional officials and the agriculture ministry who had promised to send experts as soon as possible.
Longido resident Jeremiah Sanka said they were afraid of their crops being eaten by locusts. “We have sent people to the fields because by this time the maize has started to germinate so if eaten it will be such a huge loss” he said.
President Samia announces priority areas in agriculture
During her first State of the Nation address to parliament on April 22nd, 2021, President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced several priorities for her government in the areas of agriculture, fisheries and livestock.
She said the sector accounts for only 27% of GDP and 25% of foreign currency earnings despite the fact that 65 percent of Tanzanians are farmers.
“This is because of low productivity,” she said. “For instance, while some can produce eight tonnes [of maize] per hectare, Tanzania’s farmers produce only 1.9 tonnes per hectare. In the same vein, a Tanzanian cotton farmer produces 250 kilograms per acre instead of 1,000 to 1,250 per acre.”
She added that the same applies also to livestock, whereby the sector contributes only 7.4% of GDP, despite the fact that Tanzania has the second largest livestock population in Africa.” She said cows in Tanzania produce an average of three litres of milk per day instead of between 20 to 30 litres if modern livestock keeping methods are put in place, and that Tanzanian cattle produce only 150 kilograms of meat instead of between 500 and 600 kilograms in some countries.
To address this, the President pledged that the government will foster investment in improved varieties and livestock keeping technologies through funding research and extension services. “We will give them seeds, capital and allow them to keep producing on commercial basis. That will prevent us from importing seeds because such seeds will be available locally,” she said.
She also promised that irrigation will be given special impetus, pledging to increase the size of land for irrigation from 561,383 hectares to 1,200,000 hectares by 2025. She said this will enable the country to reduce its dependency on rain-fed agriculture, noting that farmers will be required to farm on a commercial basis and contribute towards costs of irrigation infrastructures.