By Nicholas Waitathu

Kenya: Kenyans should brace for hard times as maize flour prices shoot on the back of a biting food shortage.

A spot-check across supermarkets shows a price increase ranging from Sh1 to Sh5 depending on the brand. In what will hurt the poor more, the increment is more steep in kiosks, most of which have added up to Sh10 per 2-kilogramme packet of maize flour.

City supermarkets have increased the price of a two-kilogramme packet of Pembe maize flour from Sh109 to Sh112. The same is, however, now selling at Sh116 in the kiosks.

The next harvest

The price of a two-kilogramme packet of Jogoo maize flour in retail outlets has increased from Sh109 to Sh112. In estates like Kawangware and Eastlands, the same is selling at Sh119. The prices of other maize flour brands have also gone up by up to Sh8. In a pointer of difficult times ahead for poor households, millers and traders are warning that the prices are likely to remain sky-high up to June when the next harvest is expected.

The millers attributed the increment to maize shortage, which has already occasioned severe food crisis in parts of the country.

Officials at Pembe Flour Mills Ltd and Unga Group Company who did not want to be named blamed the new wave of price increment on a reduction in supply in the country.

“We are buying a bag of maize at between Sh3,400 and Sh3,500 from Sh2,900 in December,” said an officer with Pembe Flour Mills Ltd.

“To recoup our investment, we have increased our factory prices of a bale of maize flour to our customers from Sh1,200 to Sh1,250, which translates to Sh104 per two kilogramme packet at the supermarket level.”

Anthony Kioko, the Chief Executive of Cereals Growers Association (CGA) warns that prices of cereals mainly maize will increase tremendously in the next few months as the available stocks run out. But the Principal Secretary for Agriculture Sicily Kariuki termed the increase in price of maize flour ‘exploitative’ and ‘unjustifiable’.

Enough maize stocks

“This is pure greed, unjustifiable and unacceptable,” Ms Kariuki said, adding that the country had enough maize stocks — a position that contradicts that of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei.

Last month, Koskei said the country will suffer a deficit of more than 10 million bags from the estimated 42 million bags by the end of 2013/14 production year ending April this year.  Up until yesterday, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) had bought 900,000 bags of maize from farmers — 100,000 short of the earmarked target before the end of the current harvesting period. The NCPB Corporate Affairs Manager Evans Wasike said currently, the grain reserve has slightly less than three million bags of maize. At any given time we ought to have a minimum of four million bags.

“Our hope is that before the end of the current harvesting season, especially in the North Rift, we will procure more than one million bags of maize,” said Wasike. business.

They said most tourist were not able to enjoy their stay since they were subjected to the restrictions.

“Mombasa and the Coast are major tourist destination and setting time on when people are subject to drink and when they should stop is hurting tourism,” said Mombasa Bar Owners Association (MBOA) Chairman Davis Mwasi Kiondo.

“If licensing is going to be devolved let the issue of time also be reviewed and be handled by the counties. We are losing a lot of money,” he said.

The bar owners made their plea in Mombasa Monday as a showdown loomed between county government and the provincial administration over liquor licensing.

In a public notice in the media last Friday, the county government asked bar owners to apply to the County Liquor Licensing Committee for their liquor licences.

The notice said all licences payable to the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) should now be paid to the county government.

The county has called on those wishing to operate liquor outlets to deposit Sh1,000 with the county government before being cleared to pay an application fee whose value is yet to be known.

Liquor operators have been paying for their licences at Nacada and application fees were being collected by the provincial administration.

But there are claims the latter have now threatened not to relinquish collection of the fees claiming the county assembly is yet to enact laws taking over licensing.

Sub county commissioners have said that for now, they are the ones mandated to issue the licences.

However, when The Standard contacted Kisauni sub-county commissioner Tom Anjere, he declared that “the county government can take over if they so wish, because we are not interested in war with them.”

MBOA welcome the new plan, accusing the provincial officers of corruption and harassment of their members. Kiondo said Kisauni bar owners were the worst hit as they were harassed by the officials forcing many to shut down.

The association said the introduction of the so-called “Muthutho laws” had increased the default rate in licence payment by many bar owners in the county, with the provincial administration taking advantage of the confusion to rob and extort bar operators.

“Now that the county has come clean over the devolved liquor licences, we will abide by their new rules and hope they will streamline the sector,” Kiondo said.