Kenyans have enjoyed the government subsidized Maize flour which lasted as long as the campaign and long electioneering period lasted. Barely a month after the period came to an end and President Uhuru Kenyatta sworn into office, the unga which was selling at sh. 90 is expected to rise in price up to double the subsidized price.
However, millers have defended the sudden rise in the price of maize flour, saying they have run out of stock of cheap maize from the Government explaining that the subsidy programme was coming to its end late last year since the Government had drastically reduced the allocation of subsidised maize to them. “The Government made sure that allocation of subsidised maize to us was reduced,” Cereal Millers Association Chief Executive Paloma Fernandes noted.
Similarly, the association’s chairman Nick Hutchinson at the same time added that allocated maize was reduced to ensure that no subsidy maize was left over at the end of the programme.“There was also an agreement that at the end of the subsidy programme, millers would return any leftover subsidy maize to NCPB,” he said in a statement. The gradual phasing out of the subsidised maize was aimed at protecting local farmers whose stock had started trickling into the market.
However, the abrupt manner in which the prices have gone up has raised questions, with farmers reported to be hoarding their produce so as to cash in on the expected shortage. A 2kg packet of maize flour has suddenly more than doubled to Sh150 in some supermarkets, up from Sh90 under the Sh8 billion subsidy programme and expected to rise to sh.200 come March.
Additionally, On 3rd January, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett was quoted by a local daily as saying that there was enough subsidised maize to last millers to the middle of this month. The abrupt rise in the price of unga also comes despite maize from the North Rift starting to hit the market, albeit production from the region, which is Kenya’s bread basket is expected to decline by 15 per cent following prolonged rainfall that destroyed harvests.
Apparently, this is more than the five million deficit that the Government had estimated would be covered by the subsidy programme in its first phase which ended on September 30.It is not clear how many bags of the cheap flour was imported under the subsidy programme, but by September 30 last year, figures furnished to Kenya National Bureau of Standards by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) showed that 922,338 tonnes of raw maize came into the country.
Consequently, despite the fact the ministry claiming that the move to withdraw its subsidy is meant to protect Kenyan farmers, this has left many to wonder whether the government was really concerned about their well being or the ‘cheap unga’ was a campaign strategy for the Jubilee party and now that they have managed to get back to power the subsidized Maize flour has vanished.