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Major Kenyan towns hit by flour rationing

Tuesday June 21 2011

Several supermarkets were on June 21, 2011 limiting the number of flour packets that shoppers could buy.

Photo/FILE Several supermarkets were on June 21, 2011 limiting the number of flour packets that shoppers could buy. 

By NATION TEAM [email protected]

Rationing of flour has hit major towns in the country, with millers claiming maize stocks have shrunk.

Eldoret, Nakuru and Kisumu were particularly hit by the rationing. But Agriculture Minister Sally Kosgei said she was not aware of any shortage.

In Eldoret, Uchumi Supermarket was on Tuesday limiting customers to four packets. “This is to ensure all customers get some,” an attendant said.

Millers were rationing supplies, he said, adding: “We wanted 300 bales but only got 50.”

A director at Ukwala, Mr Anil Haria also said: “Millers must be feeling the pinch. At no time have we ever been rationed.”

Though he said the supermarket had not put a limit on the packets customers could buy, he said he was reluctant to sell bales to individuals because they could be resold at a profit.

Unidentified sources at Unga Ltd, a major miller, admitted they were limiting bales to traders. “Some people might pretend they want a bale for their own consumption when they want it for resale,” they said.

In Nakuru, several supermarkets were selling no more than 4kg of flour to shoppers. “Our suppliers are complaining of a serious maize shortage,” a manager at Woolmart, Mr George Okello said.

A spot check by Nation at one of the millers in Nakuru established the seriousness of the maize shortage.

Below capacity

The financial controller at Milling Corporation of Kenya (MCK), Mr Sanjiv Baranwal said stocks would be finished in less than a week.

“We are milling way below capacity,” he said. He said normally 3,500 bags of flour were produced daily, but currently, only 500 to 1,000 bags were being produced.

The shortage has resulted in increased prices. A 2kg packet of flour retails at between Sh120 and Sh140 — double what it cost a few months ago.

In Kisumu, the story was no different. Stocks at major supermarkets and Kibuye Open Air Market were low.

At Ukwala, a brand that is milled in Eldoret was the only product available on the shelves.

At Nakumatt Mega Plaza, the situation was not any better as employees confided that they were selling the last stock.

A 2kg packet of maize flour was selling for Sh160 in almost all the supermarkets, while at Kibuye Open Air Market, a 2kg tin (gorogoro) of maize sold at Sh130, while 2kg of other maize flour in packets doubled to more than Sh300.

Unscrupulous traders

The public expressed concern that unless the government acted fast, unscrupulous traders may start hoarding maize, flour and related products to subject the public to further suffering as they laugh all the way to the bank.

Mr Laban Akatch, a trader at Oile Open Air Market proposed that the Government re-introduces price controls as the first step towards stabilising the skyrocketing prices of maize, flour and related products.

Akatch disclosed that three months ago, a 90kg bag of maize retailed at between Sh1, 600 to Sh1,800.

The cost has since shot up phenomenally to Sh4,000 to Sh4,500 — far beyond the reach of the common mwananchi (citizen).

In Nairobi, most supermarket were not limiting the number of flour packets a customer could buy but there was signal of an imminent shortage of sugar.

Ukwala supermarket was by Tuesday evening allowing only two bags of sugar per customer.

“Due to sugar shortage, customers are not allowed to buy more than 2 packets,” read a message printed on a paper and hang on shelves where sugar stock was packed.

When the Nation contacted a manager at one of the Ukwala branches on Tom Mboya Street, he said that they had received information that there could be shortage in the near future.

“We did not receive enough and we are told the manufacturers are going into service to repair their machines,” the manager said on condition of anonymity.

It’s not clear whether Ukwala acted in panic because other supermarkets were not limiting their sales. However, sugar shortage is not anything new in the country.

Kenya’s sugar demand amounts to 700,000 tonnes per year against the production of 500,000 tonnes, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In Mombasa, most supermarkets visited had plenty of maize flour stocks, although officials said they expected the stocks to last for a couple of weeks. 

At Nakumatt Likoni branch, attendants were busy selling maize flour processed by assorted millers to customers. 

Those interviewed said stocks would last more than two weeks and they had ordered more supplies from the millers. 

“We stocked our stores this morning and we have not heard of any crisis from different local millers supplying us,” a junior manager said.

Additional reporting by KNA