Perfumed rice shines spotlight on quality of food in our shops

The incapacity of Kenyan leaders and policies to protect the interests of citizens can be unnerving. Reports published by our sister publication, Saturday Standard, indicating how crafty traders are selling blended rice, sometimes spiced with artificial perfumes, is an indicator of how our control systems have collapsed.

That traders can be allowed to exploit systemic weakness at the expense of the health of millions of Kenyans to maximise their profits, is sickening. The reports indicate that some traders who have imported rice from Pakistan and Thailand to bridge the 600,000 metric tons deficit have been using premium rice from Mwea to make a kill.

For a long time, these traders have been packaging their blended rice as genuine Mwea produce and sold it to unsuspecting Kenyans at exaggerated prices. This practice has spawned a new breed of traders only too eager to even use artificial perfumes to disguise their poor grade rice.

What is most disheartening is that rice farmers too have borne the brunt of this malpractice for the cheap imports are timed to coincide with the harvesting season. This floods the market and causes an artificial glut, forcing farmers to sell basmati rice at very low farm-gate prices. 

The government should take food security seriously instead of turning to the importation of even the most basic staple food.

Very little acreage has been added to the original 22,000 acres which was established in 1950s when rice growing in Mwea was introduced. This has made Kenya a net importer of rice as the population keeps growing. It is time the government invested in serious research programmes to come up with newer varieties of cereals which are high yielding.

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Still, all laws governing food production and handling, including blending, should be strictly followed to protect consumers from profiteers. The Kenya Bureau of Standards should live up to its mandate.  Farmers too should be supported and insulated from unfair competition from imported produce. For a long time, Kenyan farmers have been heavily taxed and left to their own devices, where even the most dubious food items are allowed into the local market without thorough scrutiny.  

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