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Skyrocketing vegetable, cereal prices paint bleak food security picture

cereals

Cereals on display at the City Park Market on April 21. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • A few months ago, Nairobi consumers used to buy kamande, a type of lentil eaten as protein in many homes, at Sh180 per kilogramme.
  • During long periods of failed rains, low harvests push up prices of the few supplies available in markets.
  • The food items are not in season currently, meaning that the few farmers who are harvesting are selling them at high prices.

In the past few months, inflation has swerved around retail stores hitting almost all food items, from flour, cooking oil, and milk to eggs.

Now it has reached the vegetables, lentils, and beans markets.

Prices have started skyrocketing and demand is gradually reducing as consumers seek alternatives or reduce purchases.

A few months ago, Nairobi consumers used to buy kamande, a type of lentil eaten as protein in many homes, at Sh180 per kilogramme. Then the price went up to Sh200. Now some sellers are asking for Sh300 a kilo.

“The problem is we rely on importers to sell to us kamande which comes mostly from Canada and there has been a shortage, pushing the price to Sh250. Prices of brown and green grams (ndegu) have also increased by Sh30 to Sh180 per kilo,” says Rahab Wangui, a seller at Nairobi’s City Park market.

During long periods of failed rains, low harvests push up prices of the few supplies available in markets. Experts say the price jump is normal because it is being dictated by market forces.

The food items are not in season currently, meaning that the few farmers who are harvesting are selling them at high prices.

Increased fuel prices, coupled with high production expenses such as fertiliser and labour, have added to the cost of transporting the produce to markets.

Butter beans, chickpeas, and tomatoes are among the items becoming significantly more expensive for the average Kenyan consumer.

“I used to sell them for Sh150 a kilo (both butter beans and chickpeas) but now I sell them at Sh200,” Ms Wangui says, adding that currently most of the butter beans that she sells come from South Africa and Italy.

The latest Economic Survey shows beans production has been dropping over the years. In 2018, Kenyan farmers harvested 9.3 million bags of beans but two years ago it dropped to 8.6 million bags.

Abandon farming

Peter Chege, also a seller at the City Park Market in Nairobi’s Parklands says the biggest price driver is the drop in local production as farmers try to stabilise after the pandemic disrupted their sources of income, forcing others to abandon farming. Global production has also been disrupted by the Ukraine-Russian war.

For kamande, local production is very low, forcing sellers globally to rely on markets such as Canada, Australia, and India.

In Africa, the crop is grown commercially in Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan. Research shows that kamande grows best in hot areas and it is tolerant to drought conditions, meaning that it can do well in Nyanza and Eastern Kenya.

Prices of traditional vegetables have also risen with herbs doubling. Farmers blame the poor rains which have affected vegetable production.

“Traditional green leafy vegetables, such as managu (African nightshade), and sukumawiki have also seen a steady increase in price from Sh20 to Sh30 per bunch. Herbs such as coriander, commonly known as dhania used to go for Sh5 a bunch but now goes for Sh10,” says Chege.

For sellers who have maintained the prices to keep customers, they have had to reduce quantities to stay afloat.

There is also a shortage of chives, a herb, which has led to an increase in price from Sh80 to Sh100 per kilo. Bitter gourd, commonly known as bitter melon now goes for Sh200 per kilo from Sh150, whereas okra has gone up by Sh50 to Sh150 per kilo.

Tomato prices have also gone up, data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows, and now retail at Sh150 per kilo at maximum, from Sh80 a few months ago.

Climate change impact

Climate change has played a big role.

“The sun has been too hot and as such growing veggies like coriander has been a challenge as this type of crop grows best in the cold season,” explains Chege.

Hot weather causes vegetables such as coriander to bolt quickly and reduces its foliage development.

With the increase in prices, consumers struggling with skyrocketing household budgets have reduced their purchases of most food items.

In most homes, overall income declined during the pandemic, forcing them to only spend on essentials. And with the proportion of income taken up by food purchases, any periodic price spikes in basic commodities squeeze poor people’s spending power.

“Nowadays people don’t buy dhania as much as they used to. We started seeing a drop in several consumers asking for them when Covid-19 hit, a period when many people lost their sources of income. And the buyers are reducing further as prices go up,” says Chege.

“Vegetables are not as easy to come by nowadays so we have been forced to gradually increase the prices, and even when we do get them, the suppliers sell them at a high price. For instance, they used to sell us tomatoes at Sh50 per kg now they have increased to Sh70, yet we used to resell a kg at Sh70,” he adds.

Carrots, which have a reputation for being difficult to grow, have finally given farmers good money. Those supplying them to markets are selling Sh80 per kg from Sh50 previously.

The price of cabbage has left many Kenyans considering other vegetable alternatives after it rose to Sh70, yet during the glut season, it drops to Sh5.

The rising prices of many foodstuffs such as vegetables and lentils that have been supporting the nutrition of millions across the country pose a fresh challenge in the war against malnutrition and hunger.

According to Chege, there is a low supply of cabbages yet the demand remains high because it is favoured by many households. Broccoli, which used to go for Sh100 per kilo now goes for Sh200. Eggplants and avocados too have increased in price.

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