NAIROBI, November 27 – The Cabinet on Thursday approved the importation of five million bags of maize to help ease the current food crisis in the country.
Meeting under the chairmanship of President Mwai Kibaki, the ministers mandated the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to import the scarce commodity and sell it directly to millers, eliminating middlemen who have been blamed for the current crisis.
In a press conference after the meeting, Agricultural Minister William Ruto said that the process of importation would start immediately.
“This program will also include NCPB being allowed to sell maize directly to citizens in the areas where they want to buy one or two bags,” he said.
The Cabinet however did not approve the importation of maize duty free by millers as had been requested.
The country’s top decision making organ also approved the release of 700,000 bags of maize from the Strategic Grain Reserves to flour millers at a price of Sh1,700 shillings to help lower the price of maize flour.
Mr Ruto said that he expected the price of maize flour to reduce considerably in coming days. “The Permanent Secretaries of Agriculture, Special programs and the Office of the Prime Minister will meet the millers tomorrow to work on the logistics and get an assurance of reduction of the prices.” We also expect they will continue to buy maize from farmers directly,” he said.
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 Sh120 up from Sh48 in December last year. The commodity is also in short supply prompting businessmen to limit the number of packets one can purchase at ago.
The scarcity has been occasioned by low supply of maize and the Agriculture Minister has blamed ‘cartels’ for engineering the shortage. On Wednesday, the country witnessed the first ever demonstration over the crisis with residents of Soweto Village in Kibera slums demanding action from the government.
Parliament interrupted normal business on Wednesday to discuss the crisis and lawmakers demanded immediate action from the State. The House tasked the government to consider other alternative crops instead of the high reliance on maize.
The National Community Based Organisations, the National Council of Non Governmental Organisations and the Ufungamano Initiative have all put the government on the spot for failing in dealing with the crisis.
Both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga assured on Wednesday that the government would move fast in solving the crisis.