Currently, “how to make chapati” is one of the most googled phrases in Kenya, probably highlighting the switch from ugali to food that has in the past been considered out of reach for the poor.
Maize meal is becoming rare in many households, following unprecedented escalation of flour prices occasioned by drought and failed policies on grain reserve.
Ms Olga Nyaboke, a mother of three, said her family had been forced to stop eating ugali because wheat flour is more affordable.
“Wheat flour is a little cheaper compared to maize flour, and a chapati meal is also heavier than rice so I prefer chapati,” said Ms Nyaboke, a resident of Eldoret.
Food prices dominated online conversations among Kenyans in the past week, with most people decrying the prohibitive costs of basic food commodities.
Prices have surged to 11.5 per cent at the beginning of this month, compared to a 10.3 per cent rise in the previous month, according to a report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Kenyans who spoke to the Nation said they were compelled to adjust their lifestyle and feeding habits to enable them to cope with food scarcity and high prices.
Mr Jackson Mulei, a Kibera resident and father of two, bemoaned the rate at which food prices have sharply risen over the last one month.
“We used to buy a 2kg packet of maize flour at a maximum of Sh110, now the commodity retails at Sh170 for the same amount, sometimes even spiralling to Sh190,” he said.
He said that his family no longer took tea with milk for breakfast and sugar had become not only expensive but also hardly ever available at the local retail store.
A spot check by the Nation across supermarkets in Nairobi’s CBD on Friday, revealed that a 2kg pack of maize flour ranges from Sh140 to Sh170. The commodity was, however, missing in some outlets. Two kilos of rice goes for up to Sh340 with 2l of cooking oil going for Sh390, 2kg of sugar retails at Sh420 and Sh70 to Sh80 for 500ml of milk.
“It is surprising that chapati, once considered a treat, is now an everyday meal, with wheat flour prices somewhat lower than maize flour. Cooking oil, however, poses a challenge for those opting for chapati as it is overpriced too,” said Mr Mulei.
On Friday, the government said it had stepped up efforts to lower food prices and cited the arrival of 30,000 tonnes of white maize from Mexico. “A similar consignment is expected in the country in the next two weeks,” said government spokesman Eric Kiraithe.
But, Kenyans will have to contend with high food prices especially maize flour after millers warned that the 335,000 bags of maize that arrived on Friday from Mexico were inadequate and will unlikely bring down the cost. The hardest hit are the people in the rural areas who are used to milling maize.
Ms Easther Aoko, a resident of Nyando, said sometimes they only ate small fish or cereals such as beans and peas for dinner.
“Sometimes you have the money to buy the flour but you can’t find it. The crops failed the previous season exposing us to maize shortage and we, therefore have nowhere to turn,” said the mother of five.
A resident of Kapsabet Town, Fred Okoth, said he had been forced to get his children to adopt to alternative foodstuff.
“I have substituted tea with porridge which does not need a lot of sugar. This system will remain in place until the prices come down,” said Mr Okoth, a surveyor.
The Consumers Federation of Kenya has asked the National Assembly to come up with a more sustainable Bill that will fully solve food prices problem.
The federation’s secretary general Stephen Mutoro, in a press statement to newsrooms, said the plan by MPs to review the Finance Bill to reduce current high food prices is barely sufficient as it is short-term and unsustainable.
“Cutting taxation on food products without addressing the cost of transport and manufacturing as well as stemming the price-fixing cartels within the cereals sector will not cure the high food prices,” he said.
He said the National Treasury must look into offering incentives on farm input costs while encouraging commercial farming by weeding out middlemen through timely purchase of local cereals on competitive prices offers.
Additional reporting by Philip Bwayo.