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The return of illicit alcohol to Eastern Region

 Chairman Alcohol Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK), Eric Githua said according to ​World Health Organisation(WHO) data for 2018, the trend was worrying as a 44percent of all drinks in the market were illicit. [iStockphoto]

Stakeholders in the Mt Kenya region have decried an increase in illicit brews whose consumption has surged over the past three months.

The surge led different players in the sector to hold consultative meetings in Nyeri and Embu counties to debate solutions to the menace endangering lives while noting that it enriches unscrupulous traders.

 A new product in the market Known as 'Unga' which comes in the form of a thick, potent, porridge-like mixture and goes for between Sh 80 and 100 for a litre, with a small 300-ml teacup going for Sh20 was cited as one of the major illicit brews in the region.

The Chairman Alcohol Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK), Eric Githua said according to ​World Health Organisation(WHO) data for 2018, the trend was worrying as a 44percent of all drinks in the market were illicit.

"This number could be higher in 2022 and it is our mandate to ensure that in collaboration with the government the consumers are protected, and have access to quality goods and in a manner regulated by law," said Githua.

He further observed that Embu among other towns within Mt Kenya East had been turned into testing grounds for new illicit brews.

The Unga brand which was a subject of discussion and debate at the meeting is also prevalent in towns around Nyeri, Meru, Nkubu, Tharaka Nithi, Chuka, Embu, Mutuati and Isiolo. 

National government agencies who attended the meeting included the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs), the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), and the National Police Service (NPS). 

It emerged that the traders selling its ingredients have Kebs licences but are suspected of changing the formulation by adding yeast to speed up fermentation. Although the drink started being consumed in 2017, there has been a surge in consumption over the past three months, probably due to the economic downturn coupled with the increase in the cost of conventional drinks and a slowdown in crackdowns during the election period.

The brew is made by mixing maize-based animal feed with water and fermenting the mixture for 24 hours where yeast is used to speed up the fermentation. 

The liquid is then filtered out and served as an alcoholic beverage with traders making a killing as five kilograms of the flour mixed with 35 litres of water yields 40 litres of the liquid.

With a market price of Sh4,000 against an investment of KSh1,500 for a 50-kilogram bag. Outlets are reported to be selling up to 50 litres per day. "The illicit brew is prepared under unsanitary and unsafe conditions and does not conform to the standards for the production of alcohol for human consumption," Noted Githua.

The flour is said to be manufactured in the Industrial area in Nairobi, Ruiru and Thika and shipped to the region in trucks and referred to as “Unga” in the market reports indicate the manufacture of the animal feed started in Ruiru in 2017 but several other companies have ventured into the business, with yeast used to speed up the fermentation process. 

The flour is reported to be available for sale at agrovets as well as general stores that sell food for human consumption. Embu County Commissioner Stephen Kihara observed that the sale of illicit brew was a big challenge that the security committee had approached head-on.

He noted that several engagements with all stakeholders would help fight the menace that has also seen many lives lost and others left blind.

The Stakeholders appealed to the Government to help tackle the new illicit alcoholic drink.

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