By Moses Wasamu
The government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has moved in to stem public anger over the high cost of maize flour, a staple food of the majority of Kenyans, by giving a subsidy to millers, thus reducing the cost of the commodity.
The government has increasingly come under sharp criticism from the opposition, which has termed the government as incompetent and insensitive to the plight of its citizens. The opposition has said the current maize shortage is politically-instigated for the purpose of raiding government coffers for funds for political campaigns.
The opposition has claimed that millers who were allowed to import duty-free maize from Mexico have connections with people in power.
This being an election year in Kenya, the government announced a Ksh6.5 billion subsidy programme for maize, in a move that would lower the cost of living and help tame public anger at the Jubilee government over the rising cost of living.
Until the end of July, the short-term relief is intended to reduce maize flour to Ksh90 (less than $1) for a two-kilo packet. This comes after the price of a two kilogram packet of maize flour jumped by nearly half to Sh150 in April this year, from a similar period last year.
Between January and May this year, many families have noted a sharp increase in the cost of basic food commodities. In my own family of three, we used to spend an average of Ksh. 3,000 to 3,500 ($30 to $35) every month to buy basic commodities. This has recently shot to between Ksh. 4,000 and 4,500 ($40 to $45), an increase largely caused by the rising cost of maize flour.
Kenya not out of the woods yet
But even with the latest move from the government, Kenyans are still not out of the woods yet. The ministry of agriculture this week painted a gloomy picture of the coming months with the April Food Status report showing that maize production will drop by 4.3 million bags this year due to delayed rains and armyworm attack.
The ministry projects harvests of 32.8 million bags, down from to 37.1 million last year. This projection points to a worse food crisis next year compared to what Kenyans have experienced this year, unless the government takes drastic measures to deal with the situation.
Maize production is expected to drop from 37.1m to 32.8m.
Speaking to the media, Dr Johnson Irungu, the director of crops from the agriculture ministry, said the government intends to fill this deficit by importing five million bags of maize. “We expect a drop in maize production due to drought, poor long rains and the armyworm infestation,” he said.
The problem in Kenya has been made worse by the fact that neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, from where Kenya traditionally imports maize, also suffered severe drought.
The opposition that is trying to wrestle power from the current Uhuru administration has claimed that the maize shortage is artificial. The National Super Alliance (NASA) led by its presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga has promised to expose the so-called cartels behind the importation of the maize from Mexico. He said the opposition knows the individuals and companies behind the maize scam and will inform the public of the same soon.
But in his weekly press briefing, the president’s spokesman Manoah Esipisu termed the criticism by the opposition as frivolous and misguided, saying that the government had simply done what was expected of it.
“The bottom line for us is that unga (maize flour) is affordable to the ordinary Kenyan and no matter the amount of debate or the amount of inquisition, there is likely nothing that can be done to change the fact that a two-kilogram packet of unga costs Ksh. 90,” he said.
He blamed the rising cost of food prices, especially maize flour, on reduced maize yields as a result of prolonged drought last year and part of this year.
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