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Kenya's rising food prices hurt both buyers and sellers

Food price increases that have caused riots elsewhere in Africa have reached Kenya, and Nairobi residents don't know what to do.

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“Our customers complain, they cannot afford the high prices we have to ask, but we cannot buy the food here unless we pay those prices,” Njeri said.

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“We are the ones making the loss. Especially because people are no longer buying exotic vegetables, they want only the basics, and they refuse to pay the new prices,” Wanjiru added.

Kenya’s staple food is corn, usually ground to flour and boiled into a kind of dense cake called ugali. On this, Kenya survives.

But the wholesale cost of a 250-pound sack of green corn has risen from $40 in February to $70 today, a 75 percent increase, according to figures from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Prices for potatoes, another staple, have doubled. Beans are up 34%, tomatoes by 20%. In a city like Nairobi, where the majority of households struggle by on less than $5 a day, such price hikes are crippling.

The Consumers’ Federation of Kenya, a watchdog protecting buyers’ interests, has planned demonstrations to protest at what it says is the government’s failure to help the country’s poorest.

“Fuel and food prices are fast becoming unbearable for the majority of Kenyans,” said Stephen Mutoro, the Federation’s secretary general.

Several excuses had been advanced, he said, from a weak Kenya Shilling, the high inflation rate and the Northern Africa and Arab world crises and their impact on oil prices, which trickle down to gas pumps across the country.

“But those are just excuses not because they are not valid but because there is little Kenya can do about them,” Mutoro said. “On the contrary, no one is talking about the internal factors of the high prices, from lack of political will, to outright corruption and institutional gross inefficiencies.”

These are potentially fighting words. Similar sharp statements in neighboring Uganda prompted mass demonstrations which led to police firing tear gas on protesters, many of whom were arrested.

In Wakulima market, few thought that Nairobi was yet ready to revolt.

But Rosemary Nyambura, who sells bundles of used plastic bags (prices up 50 percent), conceded that “we are all getting very frustrated”.

“Corn flour is almost double what it was only a few short months ago,” she said. “It’s just mathematics – I have the same money in my pocket, but food costs twice as much, so my family can eat half what it used to. Now we are taking only one meal a day. This is the reality of today.”

Related: Full-size images from Wakulima Market


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