Maize-flour in kenyaConcern is growing over the sharp rise in the price of maize flour as industry operators point fingers at each other even as the cost of the country’s staple food goes beyond the reach of many Kenyans.

This week, a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour was selling at between Sh103 and Sh110 in major supermarkets, up from Sh95 at the beginning of the month. This is despite the recent food security report by the ministry of Agriculture which indicated that the country has a surplus of seven million bags of maize following the heavy rains that resulted in a bumper harvest.

In addition, statistics from the 2016 Economic Survey released this month by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that the country harvested 42 million bags last year, up from 39 million in 2014.

Farmers, however, accuse influential individuals in government and millers for engaging in “a cartel-like behaviour” to influence prices both on the supply and production side so as to benefit from the excess supply of grain.

They say the situation is forcing them to seek markets in Tanzania where better prices are being offered.

“The cereals market is not as free as they tell us,” said Kenya Farmers Association chair Kipkorir arap Menjo.

“Why is it that even when the price of maize in the market is down, the price of maize meal is still high? They have pushed the buying price from farmers too low that no one wants to sell their maize in the country any more,” he said.

Information from the Regional Agricultural Trade Intelligence Network, which tracks movement of food products across the borders of East African countries, shows that a 90 kg bag of maize currently retails at Sh5,000 in Dar es Salaam, the highest unit price in the region.

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The same quantity fetches Sh2,600 in Kampala, Sh4,500 in Bujumbura and just Sh2,700 in Nairobi. The Kenya National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is selling the same quantity at a lower price of Sh2,300 in order to stabilise the market but has been unsuccessful so far.

The board has absolved itself from blame and instead points accusing fingers at millers who it says are holding the country at ransom by avoiding to buy local maize in preference of Tanzania.

“The maize doesn’t belong to us. We manage the grain but issues of consumption are beyond our control,” NCPB chief executive Newton Terer told the Sunday Nation.”But if it’s the question of whether we have enough maize in the country, we actually have more than enough,” he assures.

Kenya, a net importer of maize, traditionally depends on Uganda and Tanzania to bridge the gap of about 20 million bags annually.

NCPB, which is the largest buyer of the staple grain, acts as the country’s maize central bank. It purchases the grain from farmers and stores it in strategic reserves to sell later whenever there are shortages. When it sets a price, dealers adjust their prices accordingly, creating a ripple effect at both production and consumer levels.

The last time it reviewed its price was in September last year, just before the traditional harvesting season in the Rift Valley, the country’s food basket region, with a bag retailing at Sh2,300. At that time the retail price for a two-kilo packet of maize flour was at least Sh115. It then dropped to Sh90 in January before sharply picking up from the beginning of the month.

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Millers, however, complain that there is little maize in the market and the little in circulation is affected by aflatoxin making it unsuitable for flour milling. The fungus which causes food poisoning develops on grain when exposed to excess moisture or not dried properly especially when it rains continuously like it has done in several places for the last few months.

Early this month, the government accused farmers of hoarding maize in anticipation of higher prices during the traditional July-September low season, an accusation the Cereal Growers Association sharply denies.

As Kenya’s most consumed food, the price of maize has a big effect on poor households budgets.

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/

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