Kenya: State Cuts Sugar Prices to Stop Political Rhetoric
The Government has announced a reduction of sugar and milk prices as it attempts to push back the rising cost of basic food items.
Thursday, the State announced a reduction of the retail price of sugar to Sh120 per kilo and Sh50 for half a litre of milk to stem the onslaught from Opposition leaders, who have turned food prices into a campaign issue.
Currently, a kilo of sugar is retailing at about Sh160 while a half litre packet of milk costs Sh60. The reductions are expected to hit the market on Monday, a few weeks after the price of maize flour was lowered to Sh90 per 2kg packet.
The reductions follow a duty waiver on sugar and powdered milk imports.
And keen to ensure the success of the maize subsidy programme, authorities have resorted to prosecuting traders selling above the recommended price and directed millers to file returns on grain allocated to them, including distributors, to counter hoarding.
Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe yesterday explained the reprieve on sugar and milk had taken time as authorities wanted to ensure that the subsidy programme did not encounter the challenges that have rocked the supply of maize flour.
"In April, the Government waived duty on imported sugar and powdered milk, which has now landed. We have been working on modalities with the dealers and market players to ensure that people do not behave the way they did with maize flour," Mr Kiraithe said.
He was referring to a Kenya Gazette notice dated May 11 that waived tax owing to the raging drought that pushed prices up.
The waiver accounted for 30,000 tonnes of sugar and 9,000 tonnes of milk powder imported by milk processors with the permission of the Kenya Dairy Board.
Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga clashed over the food crisis in separate campaign events.
"The Opposition is capitalising on the food shortage to hoodwink Kenyans into voting for them without offering them an alternative to such pertinent issues," Uhuru said in Trans Nzoia County.
And to appease residents of the country's breadbasket region, who are uneasy that maize imports could send local prices plummeting at the expense of farmers, the President assured that the subsidy programme was a stopgap measure.
"The maize imports are a temporary intervention to check the skyrocketing cost of essential commodities like maize and sugar, but it will stop the moment farmers harvest their crop," Uhuru said.
He also announced a reduction in farm inputs to cushion farmers.
"Starting September, a 50kg bag of DAP fertiliser will be sold to farmers at Sh1,200, from Sh1,800, while a kilo of maize seed will be sold at Sh120 from Sh180," he said.
But speaking at the Coast, Raila kept up the pressure on the Government, which he accused of deliberately triggering the food crisis so well-connected traders could profit from the imports.
"The cost of living is unbearable and most Kenyans cannot afford food. The subsidised maize meal is not available in most parts of Kenya," Raila charged.
"There are five key sins Jubilee has committed and which should be good reason to vote them out. One of these sins is the intolerable cost of living," Raila said in Kilifi.
But the Government spokesperson dismissed Raila's claims that Jubilee had frustrated the importation of cheap maize from neighbouring Ethiopia and had instead allowed traders to ship it from Mexico to make super profits.
Kiraithe said Raila's suggestion that the maize from Ethiopia was cheaper was misguided. He explained that the Government had sent a delegation led by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Betty to Ethiopia to negotiate maize import costs.
"President Uhuru Kenyatta sent a delegation to Ethiopia in February this year and the Government has so far allowed for the importation of 13,000 metric tonnes of maize into Kenya," he said.
After negotiations with the millers who expressed interest in importing maize, he said, it became clear that grain from Ethiopia would be too costly.
"It became clear that a 90kg bag of maize from Ethiopia would retail at between Sh4,400 and Sh5,000 given the obtaining dependent variables. The notion that this maize will be cheap is, therefore, grossly misguided," Kiraithe said.
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