Kenya's cost of living crisis: "I can't afford rice to feed my children"

Rising food prices are causing some Kenyan families to eat less or none at all.

Kenya's cost of living crisis: "I can't afford rice to feed my children"

Rising food prices are causing some Kenyan families to eat less or none at all. This is according to Catherine Byaruhanga, BBC Nairobi.

Florence Kambua is hunched over in her front yard digging through plastic, glass and clothes. She can then sell the items in Nairobi's capital.

The 40-year old is wearing a black sweater and knee high plastic boots. This isn't a job for the faint-hearted. It can be dangerous. In the Mukuru Kwa Njenga Slum, rotten food and full nappies are a constant threat to her health.

"Sometimes you get diarrhoea and sometimes you get a heart infection. "I have persevered because I don’t have an option," Ms Kambua says to me.

This mother of six is now struggling. 19 years ago, she moved to Nairobi, East Africa’s largest metropolis, in the hope of a brighter future.

She lost her job, her father left her, and her small food stand was destroyed for a new expressway.

She is doing what she can to get food on the table. She earns about 100 Kenyan shillings per day ($0.85; PS0.70).

Ms Kambua claims that even with her meagre income, she was able to feed her family twice daily before food prices rose.

"My children love rice. I would take 50 shillings to the shop and buy half a kilo rice for them. Now, you cannot."

Ms Kambua is now a fan of maize flour, a staple cereal that's often made into Ugali, a thick dough that can be filled with nutrients, but also increases in price.

She now feeds her family only once per day, sometimes not at any time. "I used to buy the most expensive flour for 85 shillings. Flour is currently 150 shillings. We sleep hungry when I'm unable to make any money."

We have been in touch for a few weeks and Ms Kambua has received worse news. The average price of two kilogrammes maize flour has risen to over 200 shillings. This is a 25% increase.

According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, annual food inflation has reached double digits. Prices are 12.4% higher than in May 2021.

Most households consume maize, which can be grown in Kenya or imported from neighboring countries.

Although it is cheaper in lean times, Kennedy Nyagah (chairman of the United Grain Millers Association) says that there is currently a shortage.

He adds, "I would attribute this to a crop failure due to insufficient rainfall and issues around the prices of farm inputs such as fertilizers."

The local market is very low at Ms Kambua. It was not uncommon for customers to buy one tomato or an onion because they are too expensive.

"In the past, a tomato that you see us selling now would have cost 10 shillings. We used to sell it for five shillings," Elijah Machuki Nyabutohe, vendor, tells me, pointing to a basket.

"That's why there aren't buyers. He says they are afraid because if they buy too many tomatoes they won't have enough money to buy flour, and they end up starving."

He is not in Ukraine but is aware of the devastating effects of war and the rise in fuel and fertiliser prices.

"Farmers are having to spend more on fertilizers to grow tomatoes. Many people stop tomato farming because of high costs of fertilizers," Mr Nyabutohe told me.

Catherine Kanini lives just a few hundred meters from the market. She is now unemployed because the bar where she used to work was destroyed in order to expand a road that connects with the expressway.

The mother of a 30-year-old daughter can't afford to rent an apartment so she built her own structure from mosquito nets, plastic sheets, and wooden poles.

She is originally from Kitui County, eastern Kenya.

Although her mother would have sent food to her from the village, prolonged drought has made that impossible.

"Right now it is very dry in our rural area. It is not raining. It rains when there's food, and that's when my mother can send me some food," Ms Kanini tells us. "She is now expecting us to send something. We have difficulties on the other end, but she is relying upon us."

Kenya will hold a general election in August to address the rising cost of living. This issue is prominently featured on the campaign trail by the two main candidates for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

William Ruto, Deputy President, is proposing a bottom-up approach to improving the economy. Raila Odinga, long-time opposition leader has promised cash transfers for poor households.

Ms Kanini has some advice for them.

"I suggest they open factories and give us work. They should lower the prices of commodities that they have increased. You would then be able, once you have a little money, to buy some food.

Meron Elias, an analyst at International Crisis Group, warns that instability could result from the cost-of living crisis. This is especially true in close contests.

"Although it is uncertain what the election will result in Kenya, which is a credit Kenya's democracy, we fear that the frustration over high food prices as well as general inflation may make it easier for politicians and other political leaders to mobilize angry crowds on the streets. This also increases the possibility that youth who are unemployed could be recruited to gangs for violence during the electoral period.

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