Hungry Kenyans throng shops to buy cheap unga


Photo: (David Njaaga/Standard)

Shoppers Wednesday flocked stores to purchase subsidised maize flour, prompting stockists to limit the amount of packets one could buy.

Some supermarkets in Nairobi, Nyeri, Kisumu, Kakamega, Eldoret, Thika, and Nakuru ran out of the 1kg and 2kg maize flour packets that were retailing at Sh47 and Sh90 respectively.

In some areas where the government-branded maize flour had not yet arrived, retailers reduced the price of the brands on the shelves.

Various players including traders, small millers, and the consumer federation asked questions ranging from distribution of the government-branded product, price controls, and alleged skewed allocation of the grain.

In Mombasa, the retail price of a 2kg packet was still at Sh143 and stockists said the government-subsidised maize flour was not available.

In Nairobi, Tusky’s Supermarket stores, which were the first to lower the price of maize after the government subsidy, was only allowing customers to buy two packets of the 2kg of maize flour.

Enough stock

The Naivas Supermarkets boss said his stores would not limit the number of packets one buys but that this would depend on availability of stocks.

“We are not limiting where we have enough stock,” Naivas chief commercial officer Willy Kimani said.

Uchumi, which started receiving supplies Wednesday, said the cheap unga would hit the shelves on Friday and that advice on quantities would be informed by the stocks.

In Kisumu, Nakumatt and Tumaini supermarkets were selling a 2kg packet of the Mama and Pema brands at Sh90.

“We are selling a 2kg at Sh90 but it is now out of stock,” said a salesman at the retail chain who added that the store had yet to receive the government-branded maize flour.

At Tumaini Supermarket, other brands such as Jambo maize meal were still retailing at Sh153 per 2kg packet while at Choppies Supermarkets (formerly Ukwala), a 2kg packet was selling at Sh144.

In Eldoret town, hundreds of shoppers thronged Yako Supermarket, the only one selling the subsidised maize flour.

Geoffrey Kamau, who had planned to buy four packets, said he was delighted that he could now afford to buy maize flour.

“The past few months have been tough for me and my family. We are an ugali-loving family but since I could not afford to buy unga at 150, we had to eat rice. My children would wake up late in the night complaining of hunger but now I can comfortably provide the flour for my family,” Kamau said.

Christine Ekai said: “I have always prayed that the price of unga comes down and now God has done it for me through Jubilee. I pray that the price of sugar and milk comes down too so that the poor can also afford them.”

A spot check indicated that other supermarkets in Eldoret were selling the commodity at the usual price of Sh150 as they had not exhausted their old stock.

Traders in Mt Kenya region had to reduce their prices to keep up with outlets that were selling the product at Sh90.

However, questions about the subsidy programme arose, with traders and a consumer federation expressing concerns.

Alex Mwangi, a supermarket proprietor, accused the Government of being inconsiderate and subjecting traders to massive losses.

“We have been forced to sell even the old stock at the lowered prices and will incur a loss of close to Sh50 for each packet of flour we sell,” Mwangi said.

He suggested that the Government should have provided incentives to retailers such as asking the manufacturers to provide them with credit notes to reduce the amount they would pay for the stock they would sell at a reduced rate.

Small millers complained that the Government had short-changed them by allocating them 10 per cent of the grain, yet they represent 60 per cent of grain milling capacity in the country.

United Millers Association, which involves African Millers, argued that it was unfair for the Government to supply them with only 100,000 bags while big millers got 900,000 bags.

Stephen Mutoro, the secretary-general of the Consumers Federation of Kenya, said small millers had been discriminated against in favour of cartel-like major millers and that this would undermine the programme, especially for the majority poor who have limited access to supermarkets.

Mutoro also criticised the opaque procurement process adding, “corruption and missing value for money fears cannot be far-fetched.”

He also criticised the price control, arguing that by marking the Sh90 per packet, the Government was in breach of the Competition Act.

“Ideally, it should have capped it at a maximum of Sh90 and allowed willing dealers to sell at a lower rate,” he added.

Some supermarkets such as Samrat in Nyeri limited the buyers to not more than 6kg of flour. A buyer was seen opening a packet of maize flour, which bore a red seal with the initials GoK and the Sh90 price tag, to confirm its contents.

End of suffering

In Thika town, shoppers scrambled for the maize flour available at Kassmatt and Tuskys supermarkets.

In Nakuru at Tuskys supermarket, attendants had a hard time labelling the new stock and changing price tags as customers scrambled for the commodity.

Mary Wanja lauded the Government’s action and said the suffering of Kenyans had come to an end. “With the low prices we can comfortably put a plate on the table for our families. It is good that the Government has kept its promise and we have cheap flour finally,” she said as she loaded five packets on her shopping basket.

In Kakamega, most supermarkets sold the flour at between Sh148 to 165, depending on the brand.