Unga sales dip over safety concerns

Flour prices stagnate following suspension of aflatoxin-contaminated maize flour in five brands

In Summary

• Kenyans are sceptical about buying maize flour and this has stagnated prices, says miller. 

• A 2kg packet of unga is selling at between Sh140 and Sh130 since last week. 

Dola flour on shelves in Mwingi before the government effected suspension of the brand from the market.
Dola flour on shelves in Mwingi before the government effected suspension of the brand from the market.

Kenyans could be reducing their servings of ugali following last week’s media exposé on maize flour contamination with aflatoxin — a cancer-causing contaminant.

The exposé aired on a local tv station showed that Kenyans have for decades been exposed to dangerous levels of aflatoxins in maize and maize products. 

It faulted state agencies for failing to regulate the process by which maize moves from the farmers to the millers and ends up on kitchen cupboards. 

Kennedy Nyaga, chairman of the United Grain Millers Association yesterday said the demand for unga in the market has gone down.

Nyaga confirmed that the prices of a two-kilo packet of maize flour have stagnated this week as Kenyans shy away from buying the product for fear of being exposed to contamination.

A 2kg packet of maize flour is retailing at between Sh130 and Sh140 depending on the brand. A bale of 12 packets of maize flour is wholesaling from Sh1,325 to Sh1,350.

“Demand for unga has gone down and the stock of maize flour with millers is not moving much. The market is quiet but we hope it will pick up next week once the uncertainty has reduced,” he said.

On November 9, Kebs suspended five maize flour brands including Dola by Kitui Flour Mills, Kifaru (Alpha Grain Limited), Starehe (Pan African Grain Millers), 210 by Kenblest Limited and Jembe by Kensal Rise Limited.

The brands were found to contain high levels of aflatoxin.

Appearing before the National Assembly Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri put on notice millers of the five products who have resorted to lowering prices to clear their stocks.

He said the ministry is currently doing random checks to ensure no brand blacklisted by Kebs is sold to Kenyans.

Kiunjuri called for surveillance of the country’s borders to ensure that no contaminated maize is imported.

Agriculture PS Hamadi Boga yesterday assured wananchi of the country's strong food safety systems, only second to South Africa on the continent.

He said Kenyans should not panic on the basis of a few observations.

Boga said that in a tropical country like Kenya, you will always find aflatoxin, the question is how much? It is not possible to have zero presence of aflatoxin, he said. 

The recommended levels in Kenya is 10ppb (parts per billion) for human consumption. In the US it is 20ppb, 10ppb in East Africa and 5ppb in Europe.

“Kenya has one of the strongest sanitary and phytosanitary and food security system in Africa and that is recognised globally,” the PS said.

The country is a member of the global standard-setting committee of Codex Alimentarius and is implementing global best practice, he said. 

Some of the organisations tasked with food safety are the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services, Poisons and Pests Control Board, Directorate of Veterinary Services and AFS.

“We are working with partners to strengthen them [the organisations]. The East African Reference Laboratory for aflatoxins is in Katumani,” the PS said.

(edited by O. Owino)