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Blunders by the government, surging demand and inefficiencies in the market have led to biting shortage of maize flour across the country.

A spot check on Saturday indicated shops were experiencing shortage of the commodity, with more than 15 supermarkets and other retail outlets visited by the by the Nation in Nairobi lacking completely or having little stock of the product that is sold at between Sh230 and Sh254.

The Cereal Millers Association (CMA) blamed the crisis on increased demand.

“Since the introduction of the maize subsidy programme in late July, the CMA members have seen an unprecedented surge in demand for their consumers for subsidised maize flour. The surge in demand is as a result of consumers enjoying the benefits of subsidised Sh100 price by buying above average stocks and stocking up ahead of the August 9 General Election.”

The government also set the ground for the crisis by locking out majority of maize millers from the subsidy programme and restricting the initiative only to sifted flour.

While the Ministry of Agriculture officially says the purpose of the maize flour subsidy launched on July 22 is to lower retail prices to cushion poor households, investigations by the Nation show its actions have caused the current crisis.

In the contract drawn by the ministry to enable millers participate in the subsidy programme, the ministry carefully stated that only sifted maize meal was being subsidised, eliminating millers producing unsifted flour.

โ€œWhereas the ministry is desirous of subsidising the price of sifted maize flour for the purpose of mitigating the high costs and whereas the miller has at the request of the ministry and subject to terms contained in this contract agreed to participate in the maize subsidy programme,โ€ states part of the contract.

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The ministry restricted the subsidy to sifted maize despite the reality that majority of poor households in both rural and urban areas consume unsifted maize meal from local posho mills. Half the counties lack sifted maize flour millers, relying on millers from other counties.

An association of small and medium-sized maize millers told the Nation that Nairobi and its environs has about 300 millers of unsifted maize flour, each producing between 20 and 50 bags of maize flour weighing 90kg daily.

Besides locking out the unsifted maize millers, the ministry also closed the signing of the subsidy contract the same day it announced its launch, despite CS Peter Munya promising that it would be a continuous process.

Therefore, over 100 medium-scale maize flour millers were locked out, leaving only large-scale ones under the CMA and less than half of medium-scale millers benefitting from the deal. The millers who signed have not been able to satisfy the demand. A letter by Agriculture PS Francis Owino, addressed to โ€œconcerned small miller caucusโ€ on July 26 said, โ€œWe acknowledge your concerns, but regret to inform you that the contract signing with registered millers closed on July 22. The government signed contracts with 129 registered millers for the maize flour subsidy programme 2022. We appreciate your interest in supporting the governmentโ€™s initiative and hope you will participate in similar programmes in future.โ€

The letter was in response to a petition by 30 independent millers who complained of being locked out. Some of the small and medium-scale millers who have spoken to the Nation say the ministry introduced a new requirement as an excuse to lock them out, before rushing to close signing of the contracts.

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โ€œWhen we arrived at the ministry, the first document we were being asked to provide is the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) licence. We have been operating without this licence and so many of us were caught offguard. When we went to seek it at AFA premises, somehow the systems were down and we only managed to access it late Friday evening,โ€ a miller who was locked out said.

It is not clear why the ministry placed the requirement during the subsidy programme, if the government has been allowing them to produce and supply commodity to retailers without it. The millers have been authorised Kenya Bureau of standards (Kebs) to sell to Kenyans.

After securing the document and presenting to the ministry, they were told the signing of the contract had already been closed.

By Friday, at least 45 medium-scale millers with capacity to produce between 20 and 30 tonnes of maize flour daily had petitioned the ministry to include them in the programme complaining that they held stocks valued at over Sh100 million, but the ministry has been reluctant.

Majority of millers locked out from the programme are from Nairobi, Kirinyaga, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu Kericho, Nyeri, Meru, Nanyuki, Limuru and Webuye.

This has happened as Kenyans continue to suffer lack of the critical commodity in the market, with some retailers who manage to access it taking advantage to impose conditions on desperate consumers seeking to buy

Some experts have faulted the ministryโ€™s decision to subsidise the final product rather than maize .

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โ€œInstead of subsidising the finished product, namely, maize, why not introduce the subsidy at the point where miller purchases maize? Why not target the raw material and not the end product?โ€ asked Jaindi Kisero, respected business journalist.

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