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2m Kenyans staring at ugly face of starvation, says Agriculture CS Willy Bett

By Benard Sanga | January 24th 2017


Two million could be facing starvation in the coming weeks, the Government has said.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said this could force the Government to import grain.

A decision on whether to import maize will be made next week following an analysis of needs and Government food reserves.

State estimates show that about 1.5 million Kenyans face starvation and this could rise to two million, Mr Bett said.

He said the Government's plan to stock up its strategic grain reserve was frustrated by farmers and traders' decision to hoard grain for speculative purposes.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has already banned the export of maize but prices have continued to rise, which is expected to reflect in the price of maize flour.

The Government had projected that only 1.2 million people would be affected by the drought. But Bett said the current strategic reserve would not be enough to meet the demand.

Weekly briefings

The President is getting weekly briefings about the famine situation in the country.

Bett also said the Government was engaging maize millers to lobby against increasing maize flour prices as it decided how to stock up the reserves.

A spot check in major supermarkets in Mombasa revealed that a 2kg packet of maize flour was selling at between Sh118 and Sh120, up from between Sh97 and Sh100 mid-last year.

"We will make the decision whether to import maize because our aim is to protect the consumer at any cost," said Bett in Mombasa on Monday.

He said the cost of a 90kg sack of maize had increased from a premium price of Sh3,000 during the high harvesting season to Sh3,200.

A 90kg bag retailed at between Sh2,800 and 3,000 in different cities in November last year. The CS said prices were expected to rise further given that in Uganda, the 90kg bag was going for Sh3,400.

Bett said the Government had set aside enough money to buy 1.4 million bags of maize from farmers to boost its reserves.

"We expected to stock up our strategic grain reserve with the current harvest season but reports indicate farmers and traders are hoarding for speculative purposes," he said.

Farmers hoarding maize may end up being the losers as the Government will allow duty-free importation.

Bett said Sh21.5 billion had been set aside to deal with the effects of drought after the weather man's warning last November.

The Government had earlier indicated that it would not import maize despite the drought that has affected 23 counties.

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