Several millers in western and central Kenya have suspended operations due to maize shortage.
This has set the stage for job losses following the government’s delay in release of two million bags from the Strategic Grain Reserve.
At least 10 small and large scale millers have sent employees on compulsory leave.
“Our processing for the last two weeks has been below capacity. We have suspended operations until we are sure of getting sufficient stock,” a miller who requested anonymity told the Nation yesterday.
The hardest hit processors are in Bungoma, Busia, Kisumu, Narok, Kajiado and four other counties in central Kenya.
They are all under the Grain Mill Owners Association and Grain Belt Millers Association.
The scarcity that has resulted in the recent increase in flour prices is attributed to the dry spell and the hoarding of maize by farmers.
“Some millers in Eldoret and Moi’s Bridge are fortunate to have maize. However, it may not last two months,” Mr David Kosgei, a miller in Uasin Gishu, said.
The Cereal Millers Association says the country’s five main flour producers — Mombasa, Unga, Pembe, Dola and Kitui — have stocks that can last about two weeks.
The government has pledged to release two million bags of maize to curb the rising flour prices.
A two-kilogramme packet of flour now retails at Sh115, up from Sh80 just a fortnight ago. Maize prices have also shot up from Sh2,600 to Sh3,200 per 90-kilogramme bag in the North Rift.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri had said that the two million bags would be made available to millers at between Sh2,500 and Sh3,000.
Consumers and farmers have challenged the minister to disclose the exact quantity of maize available in the Strategic Grain Reserve as 2.2 million Kenyans face hunger.
“The CS should come clean on the quality and quantity of maize he is talking about,” Mr James Maina, an Eldoret retailer, said.
During their meeting in Eldoret Monday, farmers said influential individuals in the government want to capitalise on the current situation to import maize.
The farmers criticised the government for not setting aside funds for the maize sub-sector in the 2019/20 financial year budget that is to be read this month.
“There is a scheme within the government to cripple agriculture by imposing heavy taxes on herbicides and denying the industry funds for research,” Kenya Farmers Association director, Kipkorir Menjo, said at the meeting that took place at the Teachers Advisory Centre.
The farmers also demanded the resignation of Mr Kiunjuri, saying he has mismanaged the ministry.
“The minister should say if there are plans to import cheap maize,” Mr Herman Kiprotich from Moiben said.
Moiben MP Silas Tiren faulted the government for “ignoring agriculture despite food security being one of the pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda”.
“Kenyans do not understand why the government keeps importing milk, maize and other produce when local farmers have the capacity to do so if agriculture is properly funded,” the Moiben MP told the meeting.
He said the Sh20 billion set aside for water projects should have been channelled to the fertiliser subsidy scheme.
Millers have however urged the government to end the shortage by allowing the importation of maize.
They want the government to facilitate unrestricted flow of maize into Kenya from neighbouring countries.
Some North Rift farmers are hoarding maize, fearing more shortages due to the little rain experienced during the planting season.