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Empty shelves amid unga subsidy hitches

 ‘Unga’ is missing from the shelves of most supermarkets. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

The government has denied there is a shortage of subsidised maize flour in retail outlets.

This came as it emerged the ‘unga’ - which is to retail at Sh100 - is missing from the shelves of most supermarkets and shops across the country.

Yesterday, Principal Secretary for the State Department for Crops Development and Agricultural Research Francis Owino, said distribution of the subsidised flour was sufficient.

“We are doing very well with this national initiative,” said Dr Owino, adding that the only counties the subsidy programme has experienced hiccups are Kericho, Bomet and Lamu.

“And we have sent our team there,” he added.

A spot check by The Standard, however, shows the new price of unga is yet to take effect a week after the government intervened and struck a deal with millers to lower it by more than half from a high of Sh250 per 2kg packet.

“We have only received supplies of subsidized sifted maize flour once since the government announced the programme. We received 100 bales and sold half of it on Wednesday. The demand is high and what we have will be depleted before the weekend,” Veer Dodhia, a manager at Uzuri Supermarket in Eldoret told The Standard yesterday. Dodhia said the demand is high while supplies are minimal, such that customers line up whenever they see the supply truck outside the chain store.

“The old stock still retails at between Sh189 and Sh195 because we have not received a credit note from the government to sell at subsidised rates,” said Dhodia. Even as the government launched the programme, there were teething problems that threatened to derail President Kenyatta’s plan to give wananchi cheap unga. 

Pending payment

The Standard learnt that millers had refused to sign a subsidy programme aimed at bringing down the cost, citing a number of issues including the pending payment for the 2017 subsidy.

A miller, who was present in several meetings between Treasury and the players, told The Standard that the 2017 subsidy was never paid for, with the traders insisting on being paid before they get into another subsidy programme.

Yesterday, the PS told said they had already paid millers the pending bill for the 2017 subsidy amounting to Sh500 million. “If it has not hit their (millers’) account, they should just wait for it,” said Owino. By yesterday, said the PS, the government had processed payment amounting to Sh100 million to millers under the current maize subsidy programme in which the government announced it had set aside Sh8 billion.

Chairman of Kenya Association of Manufacturers Rajan Capwell said some millers had not been paid but had submitted their papers and are waiting for payment. 

“People are buying more than what they normally buy and this is what is outstripping supply. With time, things will normalise, “ he said. 

Shopper queues to purchase packets of the subsidized maize flour at a supermarket in Nakuru. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The panic-buying has forced some retail outlets to ration the packets of unga a shopper is allowed to buy. Part of the reason shoppers are still finding expensive unga is because the old stock is yet to be sold out.

The government said it was still validating this stock, with the aim of compensating the retailers when sold cheaply.

Gone up

“We already took stock of the quantity of maize that are already in the market, and we will be paying for them. It is for the retailer to liase with the miller to get the refunds for the money,” said Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya in a press briefing last week. The State is desperate to bring down the price of unga, which had gone up to retail at Sh250 in some outlets. 

Another manager in Eldoret said shoppers are allowed to buy a maximum of two packets after purchasing other items worth at least Sh100. This restriction, said the manager, is meant to curb dishonesty of buyers who later restock in retail shops.

Monicah Cherop, a resident of Eldoret, said shortage of the subsidy is causing anxiety,  especially with the elections coming next week.

Kipngetich Mutai, the chairman Grain Belt Millers Association said demand for the subsidised maize flour is high but was optimistic supply would be stabilised in the coming few days. “There will be improvement in production and supply of sifted flour and supply will stabilise. This will address shortages that have been witnessed,” said Mutai.

Mutai said documentation denied most members of the association to comply with government requirements in the programme.

In Taita-Taveta multiple interviews from residents, especially those from far-flung areas of the county, revealed that they had been left out as subsidized maize flour.

“The cheap flour being supplied by millers is not enough here. When we rush to the town after getting information that it is available, we find nothing in the shelves,” said Lydia Nyarimbo, a resident of Wundanyi.

Agnes Wawuda from Kishushe said they had not seen the subsidized maize flour since the government announced it will retail at Sh100.

Consumers rushed to supermarkets to stock up the valuable commodity. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

“The subsidized maize flour is yet to reach our village. We have only been hearing that the cheap food is in Wundanyi town, which is very far from us. We come back home empty-handed after failing to get it all the time,” she said.

In Mombasa, consumers rushed to supermarkets to stock up the valuable commodity for the unseen uncertainties as the election week approaches.

A spot check across supermarkets in Mombasa revealed empty shelves. Taifa Maize flour was the only one available in few of the outlets, out of the eight brands sold in the Coast region.

In Naivas and QuickMart, each customer was restricted to two packets of the Taifa maize flour trading at Sh100 per 2kg packet. Elsie Mkamburi said the first three supermarkets she visited in Mombasa town had depleted their stock.

In Voi Central Business District, only two retail shops had been receiving the cheap two and five kilogram packets of maize flour. And in Malindi, the situation was no different.

In Samburu and Baringo, shops are selling subsidized maize flour at Sh120 per 2kg packet. In Hola town in Tana River county, customers flocked various shops. 

 -Story by Dominic Omondi, Titus Too, Renson Nyamwezi, Nehemiah Okwembah, Hassan Barisa and Michael Saitoti

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