Dimming hope for cheaper unga on low maize imports

Cost of maize flour

A worker arranges packets of maize flour at Chieni supermarket in Nyeri town early this month. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

With about two months to the end of the gazetted period for duty-free maize where the National Treasury allowed traders to bring in 500,000 metric tonnes, only 48,000 metric tonnes have arrived at the port of Mombasa.

The slow importation of duty-free maize to shore up stocks until the next harvest between July and August comes amid a dispute between millers and the national government over the cost of imported maize.

The government has been accused of licensing only a few millers to import the commodity.

The Cereal Millers Association (CMA) insists maize flour prices won't come down until there is a steady supply of the grain until the next harvest.

"We are asking the government to allow more millers to import more white maize to bridge the shortage," CMA told Nation.

A list of ship arrivals up to 21 May published by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) shows that about 47 vessels are expected to call at Mombasa port, but none of them is bringing in maize. Since the duty-free import window was opened last December, traders have taken advantage of the offer to import rice, cooking oil and sugar in adequate amounts to ease the shortage except maize.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung'u said in a gazette notice that the government is expecting 500,000 tonnes of white maize, 500,000 tonnes of rice, 250,000 tonnes of soya beans and 500,000 tonnes of yellow maize.

The government has also allowed the importation of 1,600 tonnes of various protein concentrates, 30,000 tonnes of food additives, 7,500 tonnes of enzymes and 37,500 tonnes of premix ingredients.

However, the importation of duty-free maize has been delayed because millers have disputed the terms and conditions set by the State, including the price of Sh4,200 per 90-kilo bag, whereas they say maize will land at between Sh5,500 and Sh5,600 depending on the source.

Mid last month, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua received a ship carrying 48,000 tonnes of maize imported by Grain Bulk Handlers for various millers, with the largest quantity belonging to Grain Industries Limited, which owns both the Ajab and Umi brands of maize flour.

As a result, the company reduced the prices of the two brands to around Sh139. During the Labour Day celebrations, President William Ruto expressed optimism that the ongoing rains will increase maize production and eventually lower prices.