State forms crisis team as maize flour shortage bites

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett (right) with his PS Richard Lesiyampe during a meeting with the National Assembly’s Agriculture Committee on the food crisis last month.[Photo: File, Standard]

Kenyans continue to experience shortage of basic food stuff, pushing the Government to form a team to oversee the subsidy programme.

This comes at a time when millers have issued a red alert that they have run out of maize supplies, heightening panic among consumers.

In a gazette notice Friday, the Agriculture ministry said the 13-member inter-ministerial taskforce is expected to design a framework to coordinate the subsidy programme on maize as well as monitor supplies of sugar and powdered milk.

According to the notice signed by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, the team will be chaired by the ministry’s Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe.

“The terms of reference of the taskforce are to…analyse and give up-to-date status of maize grain and such other essential commodities (maize, sugar and powdered milk) as the case may be in the country to determine supply and demand,” he said.

In addition, the taskforce will be expected to identify possible sources of the duty-exempted commodities and their competitive import prices. This may be in a move to tame the backlash and questions that arose when the Government announced that it had imported maize from Mexico via South Africa.

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Mr Lesiyampe told Weekend Business that the shortage of maize was temporary and would end soon. He said millers had been misinterpreted as they only asked for constant supply of maize from the Government, but did not have any of the cereal themselves.

“This is normal human reaction, and with sufficient supplies this will come to an end,” said Lesiyampe, noting that even those who might have been tempted to hoard will have to relinquish the grain.

Already docked

The PS said maize supplied by the Government to millers was to run out Friday, confirming millers’ sentiments that they had finished the grain.

He said a ship carrying 42,000 tonnes of maize had already docked at the port of Mombasa and was being offloaded.

Kenya, he said, was also being fed with maize from Ethiopia, which went to Thika and Nyeri, and from Zambia via Uganda which took care of the consumers in Western parts of the country including Kisumu, Eldoret and Nakuru.

Mr Lesiyampe could not, however, tell how much stock of maize the Government had in its silos.

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Shortage has not just been on maize but also on sugar and milk, with the Government forced to remove duty on the importation of the commodities.

Recently, the Government announced that the retail prices of milk would go down by Sh10 following importation of powdered milk.

Import duty on sugar has also been removed, paving way for lower retail prices which had risen to as high as Sh415 for a 2kg pack in some outlets.

According to Mr Bett, the taskforce will be monitoring prices of maize and maize products, and other essential commodities. It will then prepare progress reports on the same.

Members of the taskforce include Director of Crops Management Johnson Irungu, Director for Livestock Production Julius Kiptarus and Jasper Mbiuki, secretary for Legislative Affairs and Regulatory Compliance in the Office of the President.

Others are the Attorney-General or his representative, Narok County Commissioner Arthur Osiya, National Treasury PS Wanyambura Mwambia, Cornel Ngelechey, Ruth Wachira, Augustine Cheruiyot, William Karari, Kepha Ombacho and Joseph Ngetich.

The team has been given authority to co-opt any other member whose skills and experience will help in serving the terms of reference. It is expected to remain in office for four months dating back to May 2, meaning that it will run up to September 2.

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The duration may, however, be extended.

Contradicts promise

In the latest consumer price index by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the Government’s introduction of subsidised maize flour saw average price of a 2kg packet drop from Sh135.87 in April to Sh129.64 in May.

Getting the subsidised Sh90 flour from retailers has remained a challenge, with many outlets restricting shoppers to not more than two packets.

In some areas, the retailers price it above Sh90 or only sell it to customers who buy it alongside other items.

This contradicts a promise by the Government and Cereal Millers Association that the flour would be available throughout the country up to September.

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