Treasury releases Sh3.7bn to address maize shortage

The National Treasury has released Sh3.7 billion to buy maize and replenish the Strategic Grain Reserve to address the shortage.

The cash released through a supplementary budget will see the purchase of more than a million bags of maize.

Maize at the grain reserve dropped to 50,000 bags on May 15, enough to feed the country for half a day.

The reserve, which is expected to hold five million bags was depleted by the release of 1,050,000 bags to millers to help curb the runaway prices of unga.

“In line with the proposal to address the cost of living, Sh3.7 billion has been allocated to the Strategic Grain Reserve for acquisition of stocks,” a parliamentary brief attached to the supplementary budget said.

RAISED PRICES

This comes as the government raised the price of a bag of maize to Sh3,600

Reports in March indicated that farmers were holding nearly 10 million bags in their stores.

READ: Story behind Kenya’s food crisis

The empty reserve means the State may turn to imports should it need relief maize, given the weakened position of National Cereals and Produce Board.

It also weakens the government’s attempts lower flour prices, given that it recently turned to the reserve to address the increasing prices of the staple food that was retailing at record levels.

Last month, Kenya announced subsidies of Sh6 billion to maize importers to help lower the cost of flour.

The subsidy cut the price of a 90kg bag of maize to Sh2,300 from above Sh4,000, allowing the 2kg packet to be sold for Sh90 against the market cost of Sh140.

POLITICAL HEADACHE

Rising prices of maize flour and other foods has become a political headache for President Uhuru Kenyatta as he seeks a second term in office.

He is running against National Super Alliance flagbearer Raila Odinga who has used the high cost of living to portray the government as incompetent.

An acute flour shortage has hit parts of Nyanza in the past one week with most residents terming the interventions by the government a big joke.

A spot check by the Nation showed there was no flour in most retail outlets in Kisii, Nyamira, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Migori counties.

Kisumu outlets were making shoppers buy items valued at not less than Sh200 before allowing them access to a packet of 2kg flour.

LOW SUPPLY

“The supply is terribly low and supermarkets are forcing us to buy other items that we had not planned for,” Mr Hezron Oganda, a Kisumu resident, said.

In Migori County, Ms Hulda Ogolla said she could not recall the last time she saw flour in supermarkets.

“We request the President to come to our rescue. The truth is that ordinary people are suffering,” she said.

Ms Lydiah Ogake from Nyamira said she missed flour in the county’s supermarkets and travelled to Kisii though her efforts still bore no fruit.

This comes barely a week after Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, during his tour of Kisii, assured residents that unga would be in plenty.

FACING CHALLENGES

The minister told locals that the government was facing challenges supplying flour countrywide.

On Monday, Mr James Maobe expressed the frustrations of residents.

“We do not mind if we get the high-priced flour. As we speak, there is nothing on the shelves,” he said

“The promise for subsidised unga is just a political gimmick. It is a vote-hunting scheme.”

However, Kisii County Commissioner Samuel Njora attributed the shortage to unscrupulous traders “out to sabotage the country’s economy”.

The county chief said businesspeople hoarding the subsidised unga would “face the full force of the law”.

Reported by Edwin Mutai, Nyaboga Kiage, Gerald Bwisa and Brenda Gamonde

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