Kenya Food Prices
By Paul Ndiho
May 22, 2012
Kenya has shifted from a drought that threatened millions people without food in 2011, to floods that are sweeping through fields and compromising harvests. Food prices remain high and consumers in east Africa’s biggest economy are hurting.
At one of Nairobi’s biggest open air food markets, the colors of ripe fruit and vegetables displayed in heaps around muddy stalls, brighten up a dull rainy day.
The kangemi market, which lies strategically along the highway that links the fertile right valley region to the Kenyan capital to the west, has always been cheaper than what you would find deeper within the city. But in the last five years buyers say the cost of food, like in every other part of the county has continued to rise.
“We have not seen the food prices drop anywhere because even when we go to the wholesale market we find that the prices are high and when we try and sell it to our buyers it is impossible.”
Record high food prices last year helped to fuel the demonstrations in east Africa. Domestic food prices remain high due to a combination of large quantities of food imports and factors such as regional trade restrictions, hoarding, civil unrest, poor governance and climate change.
A United Nations report released in April showed that world food prices eased after rising during the first quarter of this year.
Economic analyst James Shikwati says supermarkets were keeping prices high for consumers willing to pay more for convenience, forcing wholesale markets like Kangemi to follow in order to stay relevant.
“the causes of food prices going up in Kenya is the disruption of transportation system caused by the heavy rains that’s one of them the of course the other cause is the competition between what i will call the super market surge visa – visa the open air markets where now everybody is trying to position to be able to be meaningful to the market.”
In another part of Kenya, the Maasai people of Namelok in Amboseli region are trying to adapt to changing weather patterns by coming up with new farming methods aimed at improving their food security. They are traditionally livestock keepers, but successive droughts have decimated many of their animals, so they broke with tradition and now cultivate tomatoes, maize and beans.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark recently visited the area ahead of the launch of the Africa human development report. Helen noted that across Africa a big answer to fighting hunger and food shortages is empowering women farmers.
“this cooperative of women working with a local non-governmental organization has found a way to move forward, so this story needs to be told many times to inspire other communities to think that it is possible to be able to have a livelihood as things around you are changing, as the climate is changing, and things can’t be done the way they used to be.”
Some women in this region earned a living by trading goats at the local market after their husbands left them with children to feed– but the income is unreliable. Now, the women’s group has leased two acres of land with the help of a small local charity, and they’ve already had one successful harvest.
“We would like to farm more arable land and do this on a bigger scale, and we want to learn better agricultural practices, so that we can become a society that can sustain itself.”
Analysts say tourism is a major earner of foreign exchange for Kenya– and the community has recognized that conservation can also bring economic benefits.
Some critics say the government has failed to harness the water available for storage and farming in areas that require irrigation– and to serve populations without access to drinking water and electricity.
Shikwati says Kenya needs to prioritize food security as much as it does other sectors of the economy.
“If Kenya continues to rely on other countries to govern its food security policies, they can never be food secure because it’s the same comparison with national security they try as much as possible to have an internal mechanism to ensure the country is secure so i think the same needs to be applied to food,”
After decades of neglect, critics are urging African governments to pay more attention to the importance of investing in agriculture — if not for food security– then for political stability, as a way to avoid the riots over high food prices that affected several countries in 2008.