Raila makes pledge to ease hunger

November 29, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, November 29 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Saturday promised Kenyans that the escalating prices of maize flour would go down by next week.

Speaking during his home-coming in Lang’ata constituency, the Premier said that the government was working on urgent measures to bring down the prices.

“I know you are hungry, the cost of living is high. You have said you want maize flour to come down to Sh40 and the government will look into that,” he told the charged crowd. He blamed the rising cost of flour on the market and said it was affected by an increase in the prices of maize.

“Earlier, there was a shortage of maize. We imported at a higher cost of Sh3,000 per sack but the government committed to sell it to the millers at a cheaper rate,” he explained.

The PM further stated: “But there emerged some middle men who would buy the commodity from the cereals board and then sell it at higher prices to the millers.”

Mr Odinga reiterated that a committee comprising of the Ministries of Agriculture, Special Programmes and Finance under his chairmanship has already been established to look into the matter.

“I would even want it to come down to Sh20 if possible,” the Premier told the crowd that kept shouting ‘unga’ and ‘njaa’, Swahili for flour and hunger respectively.

He pledged that the government would next week announce the lowest price possible based on the prices of the commodity.

Also at the event, Agriculture Minister William Ruto said more than 40 years into independence, the country should not be grappling with a food shortage every time there is a short drought.

“We have a capacity to grow food that is enough for all Kenyans at low rates. This is not a political statement, I am saying it because I’m a Kenyan and a farmer and I know it is possible,” he said.

“Accessibility of food should not just be a luxury for the rich but a basic right for all Kenyans,” Mr Ruto added.

At the same time, Justice Minister Martha Karua indicated that the government would consider price controls for the millers.

“It is upon the government to reduce the food prices and we are putting the millers on notice because we have reduced the price of maize sold to them by about Sh2,000,” she said.

Elsewhere, Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni challenged Mr Ruto to resign if he fails to control the prices of essential agricultural commodities.

Mr Kioni said on Saturday that the minister has not been able to give correct information over the rapid increases in the prices of commodities such as maize, maize flour, and fertilizer among others.

“Only the common mwananchi is feeling the pinch,” he said in his Ndaragwa constituency.

The Cabinet has already approved the importation of five million bags of maize to help ease the current food crisis in the country.

Meeting on Thursday under the chairmanship of President Mwai Kibaki, the Ministers mandated the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to immediately import the scarce commodity and sell it directly to millers, eliminating middlemen who have been blamed for the current crisis.

The price of flour has been rising by the day making the precious ugali (maize meal) a luxury for many who consider it a staple food. A two kilogram packet of maize flour is now retailing at between Sh85 and Sh150, up from Sh48 in December last year.

On Wednesday, the country witnessed the first ever demonstration over the crisis after residents of Soweto Village in Kibera slums demanded action from the government.

Parliament interrupted normal business on Wednesday to discuss the crisis and lawmakers tasked the government to consider other alternative crops instead of the high reliance on maize.

The National Council of Community Based Organisations, the National Council of NGOs and the Ufungamano Initiative have all put the government on the spot for failing to deal with the crisis.


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