Even as Kenyans took to social media to complain about the rising cost of sugar, milk and maize flour, the end of this painful episode is not over as families now eat less, pay more and watch as inflation forces them to dig deeper into their pockets.
In various supermarkets around major towns, shoppers are being met by empty shelves and the brands they were used are no longer in stock as the impact of a prolonged drought, poor harvests and delayed government intervention turns into a reality.
For Ruth Motari, a Kisii resident, the spike in food prices, has forced her to forgo some meals and save money for her daughter’s fees as schools reopen.
She has another worry: “I cannot afford to buy her as much shopping as I used to because life has become very expensive,” said Ms Motari.
REDUCED SHORT RAINS
Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao), in its latest monitoring of food prices in Eastern Africa, blames the spike in Kenya on reduced 2016 short rains harvest which is also being compounded by delayed onset of seasonal rains. As a result, Fao says prices of maize are at near-record levels.
Residents who spoke to Nation lamented that the increased prices had hit them hard, forcing them to forego some meals in the day, especially to save for school fees.
Others, like Mombasa tailor Paula Atieno have turned to traditional maize millers to save on costs. She also calls for a boycott on sifted maize flour until prices drop.
In a country where maize remains a staple food, the price increase has left many households suffering.
Even affording basic commodities like maize flour, sugar and milk has been a struggle in the recent times, says Ms Motari.
Although last month the Finance ministry scrapped the 50 per cent levy on maize imports from outside the East African Community, Mr Edward Busolo, a junior staffer at the Vihiga County government, still blames the Jubilee government for failing to tame to rising prices.
“Jubilee had promised to lower the prices of essential commodities, but to our surprise sugar is retailing at Sh200 a kilogramme while sifted flour is going for between Sh160 and Sh180 per 2kg bag with a 2kg tin of maize being sold at Sh110,” Mr Busolo said.
But even with the government intervention, the prices of a 90kg bag of dry maize is still high at Sh5,200 in Kisumu, Sh4,700 in Mombasa and Sh4,500 in Nairobi.
Although Kenyans had expected that the recent rains would bring some reprieve, things seem to only be getting worse.
A Nation survey carried out on March 30, found that while milk retailed at between Sh42 and Sh55 depending on brand, it is now going for between Sh49 and Sh65 in Nairobi.
The survey also found that the cheapest brands of sugar in the market, Transmara (commonly known as Mara sugar) and Kabras brands were retailing at Sh140 per kilogramme. As of yesterday, they were retailing at Sh165.
The survey also found that these were the only brands left on the shelves of the most popular retail stores.
A spot check on major supermarkets in Kisii County revealed that parents were shopping less and some commodities like maize flour were missing from the shelves.
In Kisii, the price of a one kilogramme bag of sugar was retailing at Sh165 while the price of one kilogramme bag of maize flour ranged between Sh65 and Sh70.
Naivas branch manager Evans Omwanza said the supermarket had run out of wheat flour on Tuesday noon while they faced acute shortage of sugar.
Only one brand, Kabras, was available.
Mr Omwanza added that most other supermarkets and outlets in the town lacked maize flour and shoppers had scrambled for the little that was available in Naivas.
“We stocked most items in the supermarket because we anticipated last-minute back to school shopping,” said Mr Omwanza.
Ms Alexina Kwamboka, a vendor within Mbale Town in Vihiga County, said fruit prices had been affected too. She said the price of a pineapple had risen from Sh100 to Sh250.
“Doing business has become very difficult for us. Fruits are also basic commodities but their prices have gone up just like those of flour and sugar. We are just getting by,” she said.
A spot check by Nation in Kericho Town found that there was not a single packet of sugar at Tuskys Supermarket.
On Tuesday, in the town, a kilogramme of sugar was retailing at Sh165 at Tuskys Supermarket, while at Parkmart and Bettymart supermarkets, the same was selling for Sh170 and Sh175 respectively.
The cost of a 2kg packet of maize flour was going for between Sh130 and Sh142 in various outlets across the town except for the Hostess brand which was being sold at Sh189 for a 2kg packet at Tuskys.
Mr John Chepkwony, who shopped at Parkmart supermarket for his son – a Form Two student at Chagaik High School, said he had bought sugar at Sh170 per kilogramme up from Sh100 when he last bought the same amount of the commodity early this year.
“Things are getting too expensive and this situation cannot be allowed to continue because we are suffering in silence. Right now we are buying a 2kg tin of maize at Sh150 which three months ago would cost us around Sh80. The President should do something quickly,” said Mr Chepkwony.
The sudden rise of sugar prices could have been driven by a shortage of sugarcane, said Ms Betty Choge.
“There are many factors which come into play to decide the cost of sugar and this time it could be shortage of cane. However, something must be done to restrain the price from rising further,” said Ms Choge.
The sugar belt of western Kenya has been undergoing an upheaval with many farmers abandoning the crop due to poor and delayed payments.
The impact of this spike is also being felt in restaurants with some food items disappearing from the menu.
“Hotels have what we call food cost which drives the cost of input. Milk and flour, whose prices have doubled, are the major items in the list,” said Mr Robinson Anyal, the marketing manager at Acacia Premier Hotel in Kisumu.
REDUCED PROFIT MARGIN
Mr Anyal said the high food costs have reduced their profit margin. He said milk prices for the past three months have gone up by 50 per cent while some milk products like gee, yogurt and cheese were in short supply and in some weeks out of market.
“We are in a dilemma since it is difficult to raise the menu prices and room rates with the same margin of 50 per cent. Some hotels may do that, but since we are high end and already charging equivalent prices, it will be discouraging to our clients to raise it further,” said Mr Anyal. “For us to remain in business and keep of serving our clients well, we are petitioning the government to intervene.”
In Nyamira County, the price of milk was selling at Sh80 per 50ml up from the Sh55 it was being sold at before the reading of the new Budget.
The price of unga is now Sh115 per 2kg packet up from the Sh70 it was previously sold at.
The price of sugar has doubled to Sh200 per 1kg up from the Sh100 it was retailing at in Nyamira Town.
Throughout the long weekend, a section of frustrated Kenyans took to social media to protest the soaring food prices and compared the current food prices to last year which were seemingly relatively low.
Using the hashtag #CostOfLivingKE, Kenyans expressed their frustration over the high food prices and consequent soaring cost of living.
— Reported by Anita Chepkoech, Derick Luvega, Elgar Machuka, Henry Nyarora, Geoffrey Rono, Njoki Chege, Stanley Kimuge, Winnie Atieno and Pauline Kairu