KENYA – Data by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) in the recently released official report showed that expenditure on imports from Russia and Ukraine splashed a record-high of nearly KES50.97 billion (US$342M) in the first half of 2023.

That represented a 369.98 percent jump over KES10.84 billion (US$73M) in a similar period last year when the Russia-Ukraine war, which started in February 2022, had peaked with key trade routes blocked.

According to the report, the expenditure climbed nearly fourfold driven largely by increased orders of wheat and maize grains.

Imports from Russia were valued at KES 43.30 billion (US$291M) in the six months, a four-fold climb over KES8.72 billion (US$58.6M) in the prior year, while Ukraine’s goods into Kenya were worth KES7.66 billion (US$51.4M) compared with KES2.12 billion (US$14M).

There was an increase in imports of wheat from the Russian Federation; and wheat and maize from Ukraine, driving the import bill from these two sources,” KNBS analysts stated in the Balance of Payments report for the second quarter of the year.

The skyrocketing imports follow that the country has been grappling with an acute shortage of staple commodities linked to prolonged drought and high fertilizer prices which impacted local production and drove prices to new highs.

Kenya, to a considerable extent, relies on the two countries, especially Ukraine, for wheat supplies. The commodity is used to bake food such as bread, chapati, and cakes which form part of daily meals for most households.

The reduction in production and supply of wheat following the continuing war in Ukraine hit the global supply of the commodity last year, pushing global prices through the roof.

That prompted Kenya to successfully seek approval from the East African Community’s Council of Ministers to allow Kenya to import wheat at 10 percent duty for a year from July as opposed to the standard 35 percent for the bloc.

The reduced taxes were to ensure that there was enough wheat to meet local demand, while at the same time protecting wheat farmers from unfair competition from imported wheat.

Grain shipments from Ukraine were especially helped by the year-long agreement which allowed the exports from the war-ravaged country via a safe channel through the Black Sea.

The agreement —the Black Sea Grain Initiative — was conceived in July 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey, following a pact involving Turkey, Russia, and the United Nations, which paved the way for the resumption of grain exports via the route.