Shipping & Logistics

Kenyan traders exporting maize as flour disappears

Maize after harvest in Uasin Gishu last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Maize after harvest in Uasin Gishu last year. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

At least 15 metric tonnes or 183 sacks of white maize have been exported by Kenyan traders in the first week of June alone, raising queries over official surveillance as flour disappears from the retail shelves.

Data compiled by Regional Agricultural Trade Intelligence Network (RATIN) shows Kenyan traders have shipped their grains through the Isebania border, attracted by higher retail prices averaging Sh5,538 per sack.

Across the Kenyan markets, one sack of maize retails at an average price of Sh5,131 according to RATIN.

Ugandan and Tanzania farmers living near Kenyan borders have, however, shipped 484.96 metric tonnes or 5,927 sacks of maize into the country by June 5.

Out of the regional supply, Uganda, where dry maize retails for Sh5,251, has supplied 454.96 sacks through Busia and Malaba border posts while 30 tonnes crossed into Kenya from Tanzania through Namanga.

A weekly data compiled by the Kenya Ports Authority also shows that 11,940 metric tonnes of maize, or 145,934 packed 90-kg sacks, were cleared at the Mombasa Port in the week.

The supply is a drop in the ocean as Kenya consumes about three million bags per month or 100,000 per day according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Across the country, maize flour has disappeared from retail outlets almost one month after the government scrapped import duty in a bid to encourage purchase of maize from foreign markets.

A spot check by the Business Daily indicates that shelves reserved for flour at key retail outlets remain empty most of the time as daily orders hardly last for one hour despite a princely price tag of Sh160 per two kilogramme packet.

The government has also been offering millers cash rebates to enable them produce flour and offer it for sale at Sh90 a two-kilogramme packet.

For the first time, the government started use of a 2011 law that allows controlling of prices of essential goods. At this time, anyone selling the subsidised above Sh90 can be jailed for up to five years or fined Sh1 million. A trader has been jailed for five months under this law.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) has asked the government to stop extending subsidy on maize flour “as it does not benefit the targeted tens of millions of poor people.”

“Supermarkets are reluctant to sell the subsidised maize flour as it takes more shelf space and yet it offers them comparatively low margins,” said Cofek secretary general Stephen Mutoro, said in a statement.

“Hoarding and or repackaging the subsidised flour has occasioned artificial shortages making the commodity to be reliably accessed only via black markets,” said Mr Mutoro.