When Health minister James Osogo requested subsidy on maize flour

James Osogo, Minister for Health and MP Busia South smiles broadly as he is lifted by supporters after winning an election petition at the Kenya High Courts 1975 [File]

Last month angry consumers took to social media to complain about rising food prices.

Kenyans were particularly upset that maize flour prices kept rising against diminishing purchasing power.

Problems associated with ugali, Kenya’s staple food, stretch back four decades when consumers complained of skyrocketing prices of maize flour.

So bad was the situation that then Health minister James Osogo on March 17, 1975, wrote a memorandum to President Jomo Kenyatta and the Cabinet seeking support for a maize flour subsidy.

“I have been quietly following the issue around maize and its consequences to the ordinary Kenyans. I am specifically assessing the effect of our decision to raise the price of maize flour,” he said.

The minister stated he had interacted with the employed and unemployed in urban areas and found that they were finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Mr Osogo said as a result of the high maize flour price, a majority were surviving on porridge daily. A 2kg packet of maize flour cost Sh2.80, a price too high for many urban dwellers.

According to Mr Osogo, the low-income earners could not afford the flour daily. “The situation is slowly becoming unbearable,” he warned.

He said most children who were only being fed porridge were getting malnourished. In the memorandum, Mr Osogo implored the President and Cabinet to revise the maize flour price.

The minister suggested that if need be, a subsidy should be placed on maize flour.

Four years later, the country would face a serious shortage of maize, and Mr Osogo, being the Agriculture minister at the time, was charged with the responsibility of making food available to the nation.

The scarcity forced newly installed President Daniel Arap Moi in 1979 to make trips overseas where he made personal appeals for assistance.

Meanwhile, the ministry of Agriculture stopped all factories using maize for industrial manufacture from producing anything that was not for human consumption.

“Maize millers were directed to mix yellow maize and white maize to a ration, which was approved by the President himself so the yellow maize would produce whitish flour,” says Mr Osogo in his autobiography Honourable Deeds.

Since then, several initiatives have been tried in vain to ease the burden of Kenyans finding it difficult to put food on the table.