Meat features on shopping lists for most middle-class households in Kenya. And in recent years, most families with a disposable income consume it about thrice a week.
A Kenya Market Trust survey shows the average Kenyan consumes about 15 kilogrammes per year.
Among the various types of meat, beef is the most popular in Kenya, owing to its relative affordability and availability. Beef is alternated with other meats such as chicken, goat, mutton, fish and pork, which are slightly pricier.
Curiously, beef and veal (meat from a calf) are now more expensive than other meats – and chicken in particular – in many butcheries around the country.
A spot check by the Business Daily shows that beef prices in meat shops, including butcheries in supermarkets in Nairobi, have surpassed the price of chicken which has, traditionally, been pricier.
At Naivas Supermarket's Moi Avenue branch, for instance, chicken by different brands retails at between Sh500 and Sh800, with beef going for significantly more.
On their online store, Kenya Meat Processors sell a kilo of boneless beef at Sh700, while beef on bone sells slightly cheaper at Sh600. In this store, chicken sells at Sh600 a kilo, with kienyeji (indigenous breeds) chicken, considered more flavourful, selling at 700, the same as beef.
At Carrefour supermarkets, a kilo of cube in bone, which the majority of Kenyan consumers buy, retails at Sh649 while a kilo of chicken goes for Sh539. Only a kilo of drumsticks is costlier than beef at Sh779.
A kilo of T-bone goes for Sh1,000, Sh649 for blade bone and rump at Sh1,000.
At the City Market in Nairobi, a kilo of beef steak sells for Sh650 while broiler chicken is selling at Sh450. Most meat marts here sell kienyeji chicken at Sh650, cheaper than sirloin at Sh850.
‘‘It has become difficult to get good quality beef. Many butcheries here have stopped selling meat from Burma because of poor quality,’’ says Alphonce Mwangi, a butchery attendant at the market, noting that this has strained supply.
City Market gets most of its beef from the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) in Athi River and the slaughterhouse at Dagoretti. KMC is also setting up a meat shop at the market.
‘‘Our customers are particular about quality. To keep them, you must ensure quality by stocking from specific suppliers,’’ he adds.
Chicken, he says, is now moving faster than beef, due to the price difference. With income for some families remaining the same, any price difference, however minimal, disrupts their budgets. For such families, chicken is now the protein source of choice.
At butcheries in most neighbourhoods of Nairobi, the price of chicken has remained relatively stable even as the price of beef inclines considerably. Broiler chicken – the cheapest and most popular for most middle-class families – is selling at between Sh450 and Sh500 a kilo, while beef goes for between Sh600 and Sh650 depending on location, the cut and supply.
The rise in beef prices is also being experienced in the high-end segment of the market that buys primal cuts. The hardest to be hit have been top hotels and restaurants that rely on cuts such as flank, loin, brisket, chuck, shank, rump and short plate.
To maintain their profit margins, some hotels have had to adjust the prices of their steaks. Other restaurants, especially in Nairobi, have been forced to take beef off their menu as the scarcity swells, according to a source.
Yet, nowhere is the situation worse than in hotels with chophouses, as Wayne Walkinshaw, an executive chef and head of the meat restaurant at Radisson Blu in Nairobi, says.
‘‘Chefs are struggling to find good meat products consistently. Some of these products take up to three months to arrive from abroad,’’ Walkinshaw reveals.
Hotels are now serving beef cuts that are available locally, he says.
‘‘There might be fewer cuts and limited options, but they are of equally good quality.’’
Kenyans have noticed this difference in prices, with some raising concerns on social media and wondering whether Kenya is the only country where chicken is more expensive than beef. In truth, though, meat prices have been rising globally since 2020, for reasons connected to Covid-19.
In recent months, the cost of animal feeds locally has risen steeply owing to shortages in raw materials for making animal feeds, a consequence of the Covid-19 global pandemic. For years, Kenya has been importing the bulk of raw materials for the manufacture of animal feeds, including soya, sunflower, maize and wheat.
Whereas the government in 2021 announced a duty waiver for some of these raw materials, minimal effect has been realised as prices in the global market remain high.
Drought has also played a significant role in the rising cost of beef in the country. Death of hundreds of beef cattle from starvation in the predominantly beef-farming counties has affected the supply of beef in the country, pushing prices up.
The latest report by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) indicates a worsening drought situation in 19 out of 23 arid and semi-arid counties in Kenya in the fourth consecutive poor rainfall season since 2020.
Dr Boniface Kaberia of Kenya Market Trust argues that beef in Kenya is one of the most expensive in the world, a situation that has forced consumers to shift to other protein sources such as fish, chicken and pork.
This is backed by data from the Food and Agriculture Organistion (FAO), which shows that 50 million birds are slaughtered in Kenya every year. The majority of these (about 27 million) are slaughtered either at home or at unlicensed facilities.
Meanwhile, Kenya experiences an unmet local demand for beef, which stands at 648,000 tonnes against a local production capacity of 300,000 tonnes, according to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).
Ironically, Kenya does export beef and beef products to Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Sudan. ‘‘It is [impractical] to export beef given [our] production inefficiencies,’’ argues William Ateka, a consumer.
Apollo Gichane, the regional manager of Kenchic, says the price of chicken has remained relatively stable in recent months, except in August during the general elections.