KENYA SAID TO FACE FOOD SHORTAGE WITHOUT LARGE IMPORTS OF CORN

KENYA SAID TO FACE FOOD SHORTAGE WITHOUT LARGE IMPORTS OF CORN

Kenya could be facing a serious food crisis by the middle of 1994 if large- scale imports of the country's staple crop maize do not begin by the first quarter of next year.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in a report said Kenya still needs to import 1 million metric tons (1.1 million tons) of grain, mostly corn, before the end of the current 1993-94 (July-June) season.Experts here estimate that Kenya will produce about 1.7 million tons of corn this season. With consumption running at about 3 million tons a year, that leaves the country facing an overall deficit of 1.3 million.

Kenya's final import requirement could be higher than the FAO estimate if short rains in October and November, which are already late, do not arrive. Kenya derives up to a quarter of its grain production from the rain periods.

Western experts have blamed Kenya's food crisis on continued drought in parts of the country and several bad policy decisions. Specifically, they said maize prices for farmers were increased only in August this year, too late to influence planting.

Fertilizer prices have skyrocketed, largely as a result of the sharp drop in the value of the Kenyan shilling since the start of the year. The price increase makes corn planting and harvesting unprofitable for farmers.

Kenya will need international help to pay for its growing food bill, which will include 200,000 tons of sugar and 200,000 tons of cooking oil as well as 1 million tons of grain, the FAO said.

The U.N. organization estimates Kenya's import bill at $225 million, not counting the $50 million the East African country spends each month to import petroleum.

Western donors are scheduled to meet in Paris on Nov. 22 and 23 primarily to consider a resumption in balance-of-payment support to Kenya. The donors will also be asked to help alleviate the food crisis.

In the last severe drought in 1984, Western countries came up with concessional aid for food imports and made available funds for Kenya to buy maize on commercial terms.

Kenya may also need help with transport logistics. With southern Sudan, southern Ethiopia and Somalia all facing shortages, the Kenyan Port of Mombasa will be strained to the breaking point.

Kenya can rely on its neighbors to fulfill some of its corn requirements. With an estimated surplus this calendar year of up to 300,000 tons, Uganda could provide Kenya with as much as 200,000 tons of corn.