Rice? Hapana

Kenya: Stop depending on maize, eat rice, Kenyans told as flour prices soar

By Victor Abuso

Posted on April 20, 2023 11:16

 © A national staple, ugali (L), or maize flour, is eaten by Kenyans daily. Many say they will not heed the call to eat rice due to a  maize shortage. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)
A national staple, ugali (L), or maize flour, is eaten by Kenyans daily. Many say they will not heed the call to eat rice due to a maize shortage. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

The Kenyan government has called on citizens to start consuming other food products such as rice and potatoes, and not ugali, or maize meal flour, the national staple food. A prolonged shortage of maize flour and increase in price fuelled the announcement.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said Kenyans must consider other alternatives to feed themselves because countries in the region such as Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia are presently unwilling to sell their maize to Kenya, fearing their own food insecurity.

“I urge Kenyans to start embracing rice and potatoes. We have tried to look for maize elsewhere but it’s hard,” he said.

To enable Kenyans to change, Linturi said last month alone, the government imported about 43 metric tn of rice to ensure enough supply.

“We will bring more rice in the coming weeks as we try to sort out the maize shortage,” he said.

The lack of maize in the country has increased flour prices, and pushed the opposition to protest, pressuring the government to deal with the high cost of living.

The current market price of a 2kg packet of maize flour is retailing at more than KSh200 ($1.50). Most ordinary Kenyans with large families are struggling to afford the commodity.

The opposition wants the price reduced to less than Ksh100, a point it will bring up in the upcoming bi-partisan talks between the government and the opposition.

The Kenyan government blames poor rainfall, drought, farmers hoarding maize, global inflation, and war in Ukraine as reasons behind the shortage of maize and the increase in prices of flour.

Rice is expensive

Josiah Mulama, a small-scale farmer, tells The Africa Report that the government will not sway him towards eating rice. “I have depended on maize my whole life, that is my culture. I don’t like rice, I only eat it on Christmas day or during parties.”

Luckily, for him, he has a stock of maize on his little farm in Kakamega County in the country’s Western region and is planting more maize after it started raining earlier this month.

Godfrey Ndirangu owns a small restaurant in Kasarani, north of the capital Nairobi. He sells roasted meat (Nyama choma) and ugali to his customers daily, although he has increased the price of a piece of ugali from Ksh50 to Ksh70 due to the scarcity of maize. He laughs off the government’s call.

“It’s impossible to do away with ugali. My customers ask for it. If I cook rice my business will fail,” he tells The Africa Report.

Prisca Bulimo, a mother of two, loves rice, but she says eating it daily is unsustainable. “My children love rice compared to ugali, but I cannot afford it every day,” she says.

Currently, 1kg of rice is sold between Ksh200-KSh300, depending on the brand. Most Kenyans earn less than Ksh100 per day and cannot afford rice.

The Kenyan government imports the crop and grows 80% of rice through its irrigation programme, with small-scale farmers growing it for commercial purposes.

Long-term intervention

President William Ruto’s administration has contracted farmers to grow maize exclusively for the local market as a long-term intervention to curb food insecurity.

Last month, Linturi signed an agreement with his Zambian counterpart Mtolo Phiri.

However, the High Court in Nairobi last week temporarily halted the plan after the Farmers Party of Kenya complained about the deal. They said it is:

  • Unreasonable
  • Illegal
  • In gross violation of the Kenyan Constitution
  • It will disenfranchise local farmers who plant maize

The government has not come out clearly to give the details of the deal, but reports indicate that Zambia has offered between 20,000ha-40,000ha to grow the crop for the Kenyan market.

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