(repeats to add TV)
By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI May 24 A Kenyan government scheme to
subsidise staple maize flour has hit problems over shortages,
stoking anger over high food prices ahead of a national election
President Uhuru Kenyatta, seeking a second five-year term,
faces veteran rival Raila Odinga, who says the high food prices
show Kenyatta's government has failed poor citizens.
The government unveiled a 6 billion shilling ($58.14
million) maize (corn) subsidy programme last week to lower the
unit cost of flour to 90 shillings, after it soared by a third
to around 136 shillings during a regional drought.
"We are happy they have lowered the price but getting it is
the problem. This flour is like gold," said trader Joseph Ouma,
speaking in a Nairobi store that limited shoppers to two packs
of flour per customer due to high demand.
In the western city of Kisumu, major retail outlets did not
have maize flour, angering shoppers who had travelled from rural
homes to the city to look for it.
"It is sad that the government assures us that there is
flour yet we can't find it in the shops," said Denish Owuor, who
managed to buy only one pack of flour.
The government is importing Mexican maize and distributing
it to millers at subsidised rates. The packets are stamped in
bright red letters with the price of 90 shillings and the
letters GoK, for Government of Kenya.
The subsidies lower the cost of a 90 kg bag of maize to
2,300 shillings from a market rate of 4,600 shillings.
Richard Lesiyampe, principal secretary at the ministry of
agriculture, blamed panic buying for the shortages, which he
said were not widespread.
"Shoppers have decided to call all their relatives, their
spouses, their mothers, their daughters, their sons and the
house-helps (maids) so they can get as many packets as
possible," he told Reuters.
He said Kenya has 43,000 metric tonnes of maize and a ship
carrying another 43,000 tonnes of Mexican corn is expected on
Thursday. Further shipments are expected at the port of Mombasa
on June 11 and 15.
Kenya uses 4,500 tonnes of maize daily, Lesiyampe said.
He rejected criticism that the government should have
imported maize earlier, saying imports are used as a last resort
to protect the market for local farmers.
The bulk of Kenya's maize is produced in the populous Rift
Valley region, a key voting bloc courted assiduously by the main
($1 = 103.2000 Kenyan shillings)
(Editing by Katharine Houreld and David Evans)