Where is the cheap Unga? Kenyans search for subsidised flour

Packets of maize flour at a Nyeri supermarket. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

A flour shortage is being witnessed across the country as the government and maize millers differ on the subsidy programme started to lower the commodity’s price nearly two weeks ago.

By yesterday, retail shops continued to miss the critical commodity on their shelves, with the few that had stocked maize flour only selling premium brands that are not part of the subsidy programme.

A check at four outlets of Naivas and Quickmart supermarkets in Nairobi city centre and residential areas confirmed that they had only stocked minimal premium maize flour retailing between Sh230 and Sh257 for a 2kg packet, while Tuskys outlets had empty shelves.

Following a public outcry over the flour shortage, the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday accused millers and retailers of having inflexible contractual arrangements, hoarding and attempts to defraud the public, making it difficult to get the promised cheap flour to Kenyans.

“What we have realised is a mismatch of commitment. Our supermarkets have a credit period of 45 days and so millers are not able to supply the supermarkets because of the contractual arrangement. We have also witnessed incidences where some retailers who have received the programme stocks are selling above the recommended retail price, allegedly to cover transport costs,” said Crop Development and Agricultural Research Principal Secretary Francis Owino.

Stating that 3.2 million kilogrammes of maize flour has been supplied to the market under the subsidy programme, the PS said a total of Sh160.9 million had been paid to millers to cover the subsidy portion, out of invoices valued Sh325 million received.

One of the millers, appearing with the PS at the ministry headquarters to confirm having been paid for supplying the subsidised flour — Trident Millers in Kiboswa, Kisumu County — said he was milling 50 tonnes of maize flour daily.

The government is subsidising Sh105 for every 2kg packet of maize flour on the assumption that the commodity retailed at Sh205 prior to the start of the programme.

The 3.2 million kilos of flour the ministry says has been supplied across the country since the start of the programme on July 22 reflects an average daily supply of 290,909kg, or 290.9 tonnes.

The PS, however, said the ministry is working with only 29 millers out of 128 who applied to enlist in the programme, for an initial four-week period.

“Our observations and feedback from the teams on the ground indicate that flour has been retailing at the prescribed Sh100 per 2kg packet in most areas. However, there are some regions where we have also witnessed some packets of the same retailing at the old prices as the programme is yet to trickle down to them,” he said.

However, while the ministry sells hope to Kenyans, retailers and millers stand their ground, the public continues to face shortages in shops.

Several millers told the Nation yesterday that most of them were locked out of the subsidy programme by the ministry, claiming that the programme prioritised large-scale millers who serve less than half of the market, leading to the current shortage. This is contrary to the ministry’s claim of having brought on board millers covering 80 per cent of the market, during the launch of the programme on July 22.

They said many of them are stuck with huge stocks that they produced outside the subsidy framework, but cannot release to the market since they would make up to 80 per cent losses if they sold at Sh100.

“Some retailers actually returned some of the maize flour that we had supplied after they heard of the low price commodity and so we had to take it back. At the moment, I am stuck with 4,000 bales of maize flour that I can’t sell,” said a miller based in Kiambu County.

Another miller said most of the small and medium scale players in the sector were caught unawares by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to subsidise the commodity and were not given time to present required documents.

To be eligible for the programme, millers were required to present a company registration certificate, KRA compliance certificate, county permits and Agriculture and Food Authority licence, which many small and medium millers lacked.