The twists and turns over the price of unga, the staple for most Kenyans, is not only puzzling but contemptuous to consumers — even to the long-suffering farmers.
That the millers are defying market forces of supply and demand, to fix prices at will even in the wake of a reported maize glut, smacks of disturbing cartelism in a critical, but troubled sector.
It’s mischievous for the millers to ignore the government advisory that a two-kilogramme packet of unga retails at Sh75 — on account of market cost of maize and bumper harvest.
Ironically, the same millers, who enthusiastically flanked Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri less than a month ago to announce the reduction of unga price, now insist that the commodity will retail at Sh100 as early as next week. This is a joke given its harvest season and farmers across the country are selling maize at a throw-away price.
Could they have joined in the conspiracy of the bigger millers to callously deny consumers the benefit of reasonable prices for our staple food? Sadly, the answer is a resounding yes!
It makes absolutely no sense for cartels who are well entrenched in the value chain — right from the farm, milling to retailing — to ruin the lives of millions of farmers who bank on maize to feed and educate their children.
The most worrying aspect of this is that Kenyans— farmers in particular— are and will always be at the mercies of insidious cartels that reap from where they have never sowed. Farmers pleas to the government have been met with the whines of an apparently helpless bureaucracy.
Maize is among agricultural commodities that have morphed into tools of political sensationalism and grandstanding to the detriment of farmers, the economy and food security.
Inaction and the lack of an absolute market-driven solution to the maize farming has emboldened cartels that have dug their fangs even deeper into the flesh of the hapless farmers.
To ease their grip, the government should intervene to ensure farmers get a fair return on investment and reasonable price to the consumer. The thinking is that if households can get unga milled in their neighbourhoods then organised groups of millers won’t hold consumers to ransom. Forces of demand and supply must be let to determine the cost of unga.