A task force formed to investigate scarcity of government subsidised maize flour came face-t- face with reality on how millers and suppliers have conspired to starve Kenyans.
On Tuesday, during its first day of fact finding mission in Nyandarua County, the team’s preliminary findings showed that the conspiracy has effectively sabotaged government efforts to provide cheap flour.
The team formed by Nyandarua County Commissioner Samuel Kimiti was told of how millers and suppliers have deliberately imposed unfriendly business conditions since the introduction of the cheap flour.
Jamaa supermarkets proprietor, Elijah Thuku Karanja, confirmed that some traders bought and repackaged the maize flour to sell at higher prices.
In all outlets visited by the Justus Magangi-led task force, traders confessed that they sell the flour at Sh100, against the government directive of Sh90 for a 2kg packet and Sh47 for a 1kg packet.
“We have enough money to buy and stock the flour, but the suppliers have imposed unfavorable conditions. They demand that we must purchase the flour together with other items.
“They have also imposed a limit where I can only purchase 400 bales to supply my three supermarkets in one and half weeks,” said Mr Karanja.
He said that he gave up after his trucks were detained for days at suppliers who refused to sell the flour to him.
Of interest is that other brands of flour have completely disappeared in outlets visited in Mirangini and Ol Kalou sub-counties, which the traders termed as a well-calculated move to cause artificial shortage.
Mr Karanja said there was a possibility that the millers and suppliers are hiding part of maize sold to them by the government, waiting for the government to exhaust its resources and capitalise on the stage-managed shortage.
“We also know that maize importers stopped importing maize after introduction of subsidised maize flour, this is also creating a shortage of maize supply in the market.
“The best way to beat the cartels is for the government to allow any able trader to import maize with a tax waiver,” added Mr Karanja.
With such a move, maize will flood the markets forcing the cartels to release their stocks.
At Mirangini, area Deputy County Commissioner Omari Ali said to end the crisis, the government must stop relying on big millers and suppliers and make the maize available to small millers in rural arrears, and appoint special suppliers to supply retail shops.
“The maize should also be distributed through National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) for easy access to traders and community. All we need is to streamline the distribution network,” said Mr Ali.
John Njenga, a trader at Mirangini market said due to the profits margins and conditions imposed by the suppliers, most traders are unwilling to stock the flour.
“We buy the flour at Sh87, then we are expected to order with other items and we can only buy limited stocks. In addition, we are required to meet transport costs, that is why we sell the flour at Sh100,” Mr Njenga told the task force.
Like the deputy county commissioner, Mr Njenga said the solution lies in appointing honest traders targeting the retail outlets.
In the same town, Isaac Njuguna, said he made his orders three weeks ago, but his supplier is adamant to supply the flour after he declined to buy other slow moving commodities.
The supplier allows him a bale of maize flour in a week, to stock in a supermarket shop.
House Pride supermarket proprietor Lucy Wairimu was also of the opinion that the government should sell the subsidised maize to local traders.
“I was shocked to learn that a supplier I have dealt with for decades can impose such harsh conditions on me. He has the flour but insists I must purchase with other merchandise or I personally travel to his go-downs in Nakuru town.
“The profits margin do not allow me to transport from Nakuru, where I will also get limited supplies,” said Ms Wairimu.
Asked about general business environment by the task force chairman, Ms Wairimu replied: “You have been here for more than 30 minutes, but you have not spotted any customer, it’s because there is no flour, lack of maize flour has affected the entire businesses.”
At Tumaini market, Samson Macharia, owner of Umoja retail shop says he has never sold a packet of the subsidised maize flour.
“I only hear about it, I gave up when my distributor demanded I purchase selected commodities worth Sh2, 000 for every bale of maize flour. A bale of subsidised maize flour sells at Sh1, 050, meaning I was to spend double amount of money purchasing things I do not need,” said the trader.
He opted to go for locally milled flour retailing at between Sh65 to Sh70 per kilo.
Mr Kimiti, attributed the shortage and tricks used by dealers to lack of a serious miller plant in Nyandarua County, forcing the traders to order from outside the county.
Any trader disobeying the government directive on pricing will have their trading licenses cancelled, Mr Kimiti warned.