Kenya food crisis worsens - Daily Nation

Kenya food crisis worsens

Tuesday November 25 2008

 

By LUCAS BARASA

The country is in a serious food crisis, with only 1.2 million bags of maize remaining as strategic reserves instead of the usual four to six million bags, the Government has announced.

And the current high price of maize flour could only come down after two to three weeks, Agriculture minister William Ruto said on Tuesday.

Addressing journalists after a meeting with millers at his Kilimo House office, Mr Ruto, however, assured consumers that there was no cause to worry as the Government had put in place measures to address the food crisis.

Exhausted stocks

“The maize situation is under control ... the Government is on top of the situation,” Mr Ruto said.

The minister said the Government had also exhausted all stocks normally held by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) for commercial purposes.

NCPB usually stores between four to six million bags of maize for strategic food reserves, relief supplies and for commercial purposes.

During the meeting, the millers agreed to continue supplying maize flour to consumer outlets at between Sh85 and Sh95 per 2kg packet but said they had no control over the retail price.

The 2kg maize flour, which traded at Sh48 in December, shot from Sh85 in October to the current high of Sh120.

Mr Ruto, however, denied yesterday that the 2kg packet was selling for more than Sh100.

Mr Ruto, whose ministry is supposed to ensure the country had adequate food and is on the spot over the current crisis, said the ideal price for a 2kg packet of maize flour at the current producer prices should be between Sh55 and Sh65 but the amount could still go down if yields increase.

Confident that the current maize flour shortage would end soon, Mr Ruto said millers who were stopped from buying maize from NCPB three weeks ago, would continue buying directly from farmers.

He said millers were now receiving 3,000 bags of maize per day, up from 300 when they started buying directly from farmers.

He said the intake was set to increase even further as harvesting in grain basket districts of the North Rift continue to early January.

“We also continue as a Government to look at ways of making supplies to millers easier,” Mr Ruto said.

Mr Diamond Lalji, chairman of the Millers Association, said there was no sufficient stocks of maize in the country.

“We have a crisis. There’s no question about that,” he said.

To come down

Mr Lalji said millers were trying to maintain the prices of maize flour and that they expected them to come down “depending on mercy of the weather”.

He added that currently millers had not increased the price of their supplies to consumer outlets and that the retailers had no reason to increase the prices.

Mr Ruto said he will table at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow the millers’ demands that they should be allowed to import maize duty free.

Millers also want the Government to allow them to buy from the declining strategic food reserve, which is meant for emergency.

“We will consult and discuss the proposals as a temporary measure of alleviating the high price of maize flour,” he said, adding that his ministry will also come up with other measures to be tabled before the Cabinet alongside the millers.

The measures include increasing prices of maize delivered to NCPB from the current Sh1,700 per 90kg bag to attract more maize from growers.