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Ugali flour goes missing as government maize subsidy ends

By Protus Onyango | January 9th 2018

NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenyans must brace for hard times ahead as maize flour, which is a staple food for millions, goes missing from several shops.

A spot check by The Standard on Monday revealed empty shelves in supermarkets in Nairobi. There was no subsidised flour, only special brands that retailed at a premium price of Sh225.

Supermarket managers said they had run out of the Government quota and were waiting for fresh stocks from millers, which would be priced between Sh130 and Sh150 per 2kg packet.

In some supermarkets, only one brand for ugali was available, selling at between Sh150 to Sh154. However, all the supermarkets surveyed had enough stocks of baking flour.

Consumers will not only have to contend with high prices but also a maize flour shortage. Through the Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek), they are now calling for urgent Government measures to save them from the prevailing high prices.

Cofek Secretary General Stephen Mutoro has blamed the Government and maize millers for the current situation.

“The Government has failed to enforce its laws and allowed maize millers to work with industry cartels to fleece Kenyans," said Mr Mutoro. "The Minister for Agriculture has failed to plan for long-term solutions. He is only willing to implement short-term political directives."

Current shortage

He termed the current shortage artificial and meant to benefit a few maize millers and some State officials.

“The millers had insider information about the expiry of the unga subsidy and have created an artificial shortage. They have deliberately cleared the shelves or hoarded the commodity so that when they restock, they can charge more,” Mutoro said.

He accused the Competitions Authority of Kenya for allowing a few individuals to dominate the milling industry and appealed to the National Treasury to zero-rate smaller milling machines to allow more players.

“It is shocking that while people are buying a 2kg tin of maize at Sh60, they have to buy a similar amount of milled flour at Sh150. It is greed and we now want Treasury to encourage smaller millers to operate so that wananchi can grind their own maize."

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett last week said the Government-subsidised maize flour programme, which was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta last June, was scheduled to end last month.

“We’ve agreed that the subsidy programme will officially come to an end on December 31,” said Mr Bett in a press conference. The CS would later assure consumers that he would not let the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour go beyond Sh120.

After a crippling drought that ravaged the country last year, prices of maize flour, milk and sugar went beyond the reach of the common mwananchi, causing the President to intervene by ordering the removal of import duties on the three foodstuffs.

Most produce

But with the onset of the rains, the harvesting of most produce increased and year-on-year inflation came down to 4.4 per cent in December 2017, from a five-year high of 11.7 per cent in May.

Through the subsidy, consumers have been buying the 2kg packet of maize flour at Sh90.

Last week, Bett and the maize millers issued a warning to consumers to expect increased maize flour prices from this week.

A popular supermarket in Fedha estate in Embakasi was selling the 2kg subsidised brand at Sh109.

“The flour has the Sh90 label but when you get to the cashier, you are asked to pay Sh109,” said Frank Omollo, who bought the flour yesterday.

Priscillah Wangari, a resident of Ruaka on the outskirts of Nairobi, also confirmed that there was no maize flour in three supermarkets in the area.

“They have only stocked flour for making chapati. This has caused us to adjust our eating habits,” Ms Wangari said.

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