Kenya to turn 500,000 acres of idle public land into maize production fields to curb shortages

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Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture is seeking to put 500,000 acres of idle land belonging to various state corporations for maize production in the recent spirited efforts by the government to produce the highly sought-after staple food crop in the country.

This comes shortly after last month Kenya inked a deal with Zambia to secure 20,000 hectares of land for large-scale growing of maize in the Central African nation.

In the new move, the Ministry of Agriculture will finance key state corporations to give up idle land for maize production as the government seeks to lease out more chunks of unutilised farms to the private sector.

Harsama Kello, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry said the government has mapped out land belonging to Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation, Kenya National Youth Service, Kenya Prisons and Agriculture Development Corporation to be put under crop cover.

“We already have a plan to have Agriculture Finance Corporation (AFC) give loans to these state agencies to enable them grow maize and ease the annual shortages,” said Kello.

Harvested green maize

The first time

This is the first time that the government has revealed it would use parastatals to grow more food on idle land.

It follows resolution by the cabinet of the immediate previous regime to lease the land to the private sector able to farm huge chunks of field.

Mr. Kello said the money to be loaned to these entities would be used to mechanise the farms and buy farming implements to ensure that huge chunks of land produce enough maize in the next two years.

He said the process to have these corporations utilise the idle land and leasing of the same to private investors had been started.

Approved policy

Former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s government approved the policy on large-scale commercialisation of public land held for agricultural production.

The policy, which was adopted last May, seeks to provide a framework for the utilisation of idle land owned by public institutions for large-scale commercial agricultural production.

Kenya is seeking a model where public land will be leased to private investors for food and cash crop production that relies less on rain-fed agriculture in favour of irrigation.

Kenya’s maize imports

Figures from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show that Kenya’s maize imports in the first nine months of 2022 more than doubled to 519,611.30 tonnes, equivalent to 5.7 million 90-kilogram bags, following a drop in the production of the cereal due to drought.

In a similar period a year earlier, the country imported 214,100.9 tonnes of maize or 2,378,899 90-kilogram bags.

This is the highest maize import since 2017 with the country facing a shortage of the staple which has led to a spike in retail prices of maize flour pushing up retail prices of maize flour and 5.1 million people in need of food relief.