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Cost of ugali set to go up amid maize shortage

Tuesday May 5 2020

A woman preparing ugali

A woman preparing ugali. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

LEOPOLD OBI
By LEOPOLD OBI
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ALLAN OLINGO
By ALLAN OLINGO
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That plate of ugali will soon cost you more, if plans by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya to open the market for importation of maize succeeds.

Just smarting from a locust invasion, a depressed economy and the coronavirus pandemic that has literally brought the economy to its knees, the latest maize situation threatens to push food further from Kenyan tables, as the escalating cost of living bites.

Mr Munya told the Senate Agriculture Committee that all the maize under the strategic grain reserves has been contaminated by aflatoxin, a harmful and cancer-causing fungi, making them unfit for human consumption.

This now means the next meal you will take will cost more, as the importation costs are set to be passed on to the consumer, even with an expected shortage pushing the meal off the shelves, as available reserves run dry.

Mr Munya’s revelation comes barely a month after the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) chairman Dr Noah Wekesa warned that the country was facing a crippling food shortage, after it sold all its stock of maize and “couldn’t replenish because of the high asking prices by sellers.”

But their contradictory views cast doubt on the true position of the country’s maize reserve. “We asked the ministry to hasten the restocking of the national reserves, but did not get a response. Now, we have no reserves in the stores,” Dr Wekesa said in March.

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If Kenya is to start maize importation, it will have to turn to Mexico, with the first batch expected in the country later in July, leaving the country’s food distressed as millions already pressed by the coronavirus pandemic look up to the State for food aid.

In Monday’s session, Mr Munya came under fire following the revelation that thousands of bags of maize at the government’s strategic food reserve are set to be destroyed.

The CS who appeared before the committee chaired by Senator Njeru Ndwiga said the government does not have any maize stocks in its stores since whatever is available is bound for disposal.

“We don’t have any stocks in the strategic reserves. What is there is unfit for consumption and will be given to cement manufacturers to be used as fuel,” Mr Munya said.

Quarterly food security outlook on the country released last month by the Famine Early Warning System Network predicted that at least 17 counties would be food stressed between February and May.

Kenyans across the country are already being forced to spend as much as Sh150 for a tin of maize, which until recently retailed at Sh90.

Senator Naomi Shinyonga said it is saddening that maize was rotting in government stores due to poor preservation when Kenyans going without food.

She questioned why the government was rushing to allow maize imports instead of preserving what farmers have produced.

Before the government abandoned the business of buying and storing maize some few weeks ago, the National Cereal and Produce Board was the main buyer and stockist of the grains.

Last year the government destroyed 124,486 bags of maize from its stores on aflatoxin contamination claims.

Meanwhile, the government has permitted millers to import four million bags of maize from Mexico to bridge an impending shortfall in the country.

Questioned by committee on why the country was importing maize instead of encouraging millers to buy the commodity from local farmers, the Agriculture minister said the stock being held by farmers wasn’t enough to feed the country hence the need to supplement through importation.