SHORTAGE

Consumers worry over prolonged empty unga shelves

Major retail supermarkets across the city such as Naivas and Carrefour are recording low numbers of the commodity.

In Summary
  • The shortage is attributed to retailers not going for the commodity which they say is being supplied at higher prices.
  • The situation has forced some retailers such as Naivas resort to stocking their shelves with yellow maize flour.
An almost empty shelf set aside to stock maize flour in a supermarket (left) and a trolley packed with about 10 packets of subsidized unga by a client in one of the supermarkets in Thika Town. /James Wainaina
An almost empty shelf set aside to stock maize flour in a supermarket (left) and a trolley packed with about 10 packets of subsidized unga by a client in one of the supermarkets in Thika Town. /James Wainaina

Shortage of white maize flour is still a concern to consumers as Unga shelves in most supermarkets are still almost empty.

A spot check by the Star reveals empty shelves at major retail stores in Nairobi with some like Naivas Mountain Mall along Thika Road having no stock for two weeks now.

The situation has forced some the retailers such as Naivas to resort to stocking their shelves with yellow maize flour to tame the scarcity.

Naivas Supermarket's chief commercial officer however told the Star that they have endeavored to stock in all stores in the country.

''The claim that maize flour is lacking on our shelves is untrue,'' Kimani said in a text message.

Most people who talked to the Star narrated their agonies of finding maize flour, saying that price is no longer an issue.

''The government promised us a subsidy. I wasn't lucky to find even a packet by the time the programme ended last week. I am contented to buy at Sh250 but the product is missing on supermarket shelves,'' Paul Kariuki, a resident of Garden Estate in Nairobi said. 

Alice Wanja, a flower vendor at the City Market in Nairobi wondered why supermarkets are not stocking even past the subsidy period. 

"This is the second week my family is consuming the yellow Kavagara maize flour. We miss the white ugali. What is going on?'' She wondered. 

Similar reports have been reported in Busia, Vihiga, Kakamega, Makueni, Kajiado and Kirinyaga, with Star reporters saying most shelves in various supermarkets are empty.

Cereal Millers Association(CMA) told the star that the shortage is attributed to retailers not going for the commodity which they say is being supplied at higher prices.

"Supplies to retailers like Carrefour are resuming but at higher prices which we see as a resumption of normalcy. Although, at a slower rate," CMA said. 

The maize flour shortage is escalting as the time the government’s one-month subsidy plan closed. 

The programme, which ended on Thursday last week, was to cushion consumers from the ricing prices which had seen a 2kg packet retail at more than Sh200.

During the subsidy period, the shortage was still witnessed with claims that wholesalers were allegedly hoarding the subsidised commodity in anticipation that they will sell it at a higher price once the subsidy is terminated.

Millers had also noted that the shortage was experienced because the government had delayed the payment to millers in facilitating the distribution of the subsidised maize flour citing fears of running losses.

Earlier, experts had warned that the initiative could not be sustainable despite the government's effort to enhance the sufficiency and affordability of the commodity.

Timothy Njagi, a senior researcher at the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, termed the intervention as good but said there was a need for a clear framework on what would happen after the one-month period.

The food crisis being experienced is a global problem and the prices are likely to continue rising until the end of the year. Therefore, this blanket intervention may be a big burden on the Kenyan taxpayer in coming months,” Njagi said.

He further advised that there should be more interventions targeted towards the needy households so that it can be offered for a long time until the country is able to recover from the maize shortage.

In a statement early this month, Cereal Millers Association(CMA) also acknowledged the severe shortage of the commodity which they attributed to panic buying amid the concluded election period.

CMA's chief executive officer Paloma Fernandes noted that millers have not been operating at full capacity because of challenges in accessing grains but assured that Unga will be available.

"We are optimistic that the situation will improve on harvesting season and maize flour are expected to start stabilising following the harvest in parts of Western Kenya and arrival of cheap produce from neighbouring countries," Fernandes said.

A 90kg bag of maize is currently selling at between Sh5,500 to Sh6,000 while a two-kilo packet of maize flour is selling at Sh230.

The government has extended duty-free maize imports for two more months to allow maize imports to ship in the products to ease the cereal shortage, pushing up the cost of maize flour.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani in May suspended import tax on maize to increase imports from outside the East African Community (EAC) in a bid to ease pressure on maize flour prices.

Some of the imported maize is expected in the country end of this month, a move likely to ease the commodity price. 

Kenya is a net importer of maize, a staple food in the country, but has traditionally restricted imports to cushion local maize farmers but at a cost to consumers who are forced to pay more for the commodity. 

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