One of Kenya’s big problems since attaining independence has been poverty. To alleviate poverty, production of enough food for the population was the way to go. Well, 54 years later, the Kenyan president has stated that alleviating poverty is one of his key agendas in his second term in office. For how long will poverty remain a key point in Kenya and the whole of Africa’s agenda? Probably a while longer as the prices for maize flour just hiked and it may just be the government’s fault.
While thinking about that, we are drawn to the fact that maize, being a staple food in Kenya, lacks a consistent supply. Why is Kenya unable to ensure the availability of its main food?
Kenya has been hit by several scandals with the maize scandal among the top of the list. The first time the country faced a serious maize scandal was in 2009 when the current deputy president, William Ruto, was the minister of Agriculture. He was accused of illegally selling maize, and releasing maize unfit for human consumption to the market. This led to the suspension of William Ruto by then Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The incident marked the start of their feud and they remain bitter political nemesis until today.
Several Kenyans were hoping that was the last time they would hear of such news disturbing their lovely meals. It seems they were in for a treat, bad as it is.
Food Scarcity: Maize Flour at an All-Time High
Just like any other commodity in the market, maize prices are determined by the law of demand and supply. This is where a surplus of produce would significantly reduce the cost of purchase. This implies that there are some months where the prizes of maize flour are low. This period is always after the harvesting season. The farmers get to sell maize to the government and private millers hence reducing maize flour prices in the country.
In 2017, Kenya experienced one of the worst droughts the country faced in recent history. This affected the agricultural output leading to a scarcity of food, particularly maize flour. The prices of maize flour skyrocketed in all stores in the country and families were struggling to get meals on the table, most of them going to bed hungry. Some families were forced to resort to wheat flour as a substitute, otherwise considered as a rich man’s delicacy.
Now, this is where the government came in. The government resorted to providing subsidized maize to the millers thus reducing the price of 2kg maize flour from Kshs.180 to around Ksh.90. Even though there were several concerns that went unaddressed. Like how it would take a ship from Mexico to get to Mombasa in two days, as that was the communicated origin the maize was imported from. This led to strife allegations of hoarding maize by a group of people to create scarcity. Just like it happened in several other corruption cases in Africa, it died a natural death.
Is Kenya’s Government Corrupt?
The Kenyan government had provided a timeline of how long the subsidized maize would last in the market. But just before the fateful deadline, they decided to extend the date citing citizen’s needs that come first. The extended date had just elapsed in early 2018, with the government announcing that the supply of maize is back to normal. This, however, is not true with the prices set to return to Kshs. 150 for a 2kg of maize flour.
Now the concern is, why did the Kenyan government push the subsidized maize for a longer period of time, only to leave the consumers in that very bad condition they were in before? It is also worth noting that The National Cereals and Produce Board bought 300,000 bags of maize from farmers in October.
This is the period through when the maize prices are always at the cheapest in the market. With a 2kg packet of maize flour going at around Ksh.60. Is there a possibility that the government kept the subsidized maize in the market so as to take advantage of the lower prices while the unsuspecting consumers kept thinking that the government was helping out?
The amount the government pumped into the subsidy itself, Kshs. 6 billion, was enough to sort out the mess completely by theoretically buying all the available maize from the farmers. But they apparently didn’t, giving the middlemen a chance to buy the remaining maize and hiking prices to take advantage of the situation.
The Kenyan government might talk about all their achievements all they want, but the games involving the citizens’ staple food must stop. There is no glory in lacking a staple food.
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