Fried for breakfast

When Mejja dropped a relatable line in his song “Cheza kama wewe”, “ule ni msee wa mayai, muite mwambie agonge mbili,” eggs were a snack, that retailed Kes20 a piece from your favourite smokie vendor in lab coat and steaming white pushcarts.

But I am sure Mejja did not imagine, eggs could be a luxury and that indigenous ones, popularly referred as kienyeji could be as rare and costly as quail eggs.

Recently, when I paid my local vendor, Kasee, a visit for my usual “mayai pasua” with some  hot “kachumbari”, he cracked them open then cracked my pockets, the prices had gone up once again from the earlier Kes25 and now it was at Kes30. One egg for the price of two in just six months?

The current egg prices show a significant increase in prices, for instance in 2021 a tray with layers-grade eggs would on average be sold for Kes310. Currently a tray of the layer-grade eggs goes for Kes410, which represents a 32 percent increase in the price.

On the kienyeji eggs side, the story is more or less the same. A tray of kienyeji eggs was going for Kes450 but presently it goes for Kes600. That represents a 33 percent increase in the price of the protein-rich delicacy.

The price changes in the wholesale market heavily affects the retailers and resellers heavily as they factor in the cost of distribution, rent and branding.

On seeing the surprised look on my face, Kasee took no time to explain as to why there’s an increase in prices. “Aki hii serikali ya Nabii itatumaliza, wameongezea bei ya mayai tena”.  

His was simple logic that technically everything’s price is going up, if salt went up for God’s sake, why shouldn’t eggs’ prices go up?

But what would it mean to push the country’s cheapest source of protein out of the reach of large populations in a country where 18 percent of children under five are stunted and ten percent are underweight due to acute undernutrition according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2022.

The prevalence of stunting has decreased markedly since 1993 when 40 percent of Kenyan children were undernourished with the greatest decrease between 2008–09 (35 percent) and 2022 (18percent).

We set out at Maudhui House to try and find out how people were coping with the recent surge in egg prices, and where better than to trail towards Wangige egg market.

Although we missed the market day at Wangige center and found a few sellers on the open shed of the egg market, activity around eggs seemed minimal in inventory or sales. A vendor sat with a full tray of cracked eggs neatly arranged as if for the day’s business.

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My colleage Marion, who has kept chicken as a child at her parents farm, remarked she has always known that even slightly cracked eggs cannot be sold. But a visit to the Wangige market in Kiambu had schooled her. Apparently there is a market for cracked eggs. In fact, a full tray of cracked eggs retails at Kes350. Just sixty shilling or two full eggs short of a whole unbroken crate that now goes for Kes410.

The vendor, Catharine Muthoni, explained they sold the cracked eggs to clients in the food market especially bakeries.

Ms Muthoni said the prices of eggs have followed the price of maize to the high heavens since chicken are also on our ugali business for their staple feeds.

Maize, which has been on the decline for the last two years as production has reduced by 6.5 percent from 36.7 million bags to 34.3 million bags, is crucial for food item, making up 70 percent of costs in the business.

A 70kg bag of layers’ marsh is selling at Kes4,500 from Kes3,800 in April last year. The surge in feed costs has discouraged farmers from keeping the national bird leading to reduced stocks or shift to cheaper feeds. This in turn has created a huge shortage of eggs especially kienyeji ones that are retailing at Kes600 a crate on short supply.

She said supply has also been short on slower Ugandan imports following trade spats that has dogged the two east African economies for years now. Kenya has been relying on imported eggs from Uganda to stabilise the price of the commodity locally given that the ones produced in Kenya are very expensive owing to high production costs.

Kenyan farmers also face uniquely local problems in cost of production that includes higher cost of power and transportation as the government removes subsidies from the market wrongly believed to only benefit consumers.

The average electricity cost used for chicken production increased by 1.1 percent to Kes16.55 per unit. These additional costs are expected to increase on tax increased proposed by the government led by a prominent chicken farmer. While higher prices has not stopped people from buying eggs the vendor said clients were reducing quantities bought.

In supermarkets, clients seem to be walking away from branded eggs figuring that “an egg is an egg”, even if in a plastic branded cover. I recently found myself in a supermarket picking up a few things when I noticed something.

As I was passing through the eggs section, I noticed that the space allocated to branded eggs was still fully packed and undisturbed with the different packs while the retail unbranded eggs trays were selling albeit at a slow pace from the scarcity of buyers at the section.

I wanted to assume that the section had just been restocked but it made little sense since if they restocked the branded eggs they would have equally restocked the unbranded eggs too rather than leave half empty trays in the section.

This occurrence led me to observe that people seemed to prefer the unbranded eggs because they are a cheaper alternative and still serve the same purpose as the branded ones.

Customers, who were once loyal to the said brands have possibly switched to the unbranded eggs due to the increasingly difficult state of the economy and the expensive prices of the brands.

While in supermarkets brand choice is easy to follow, in neighbourhood kiosks, the loyalty is divided between those who can source cheaper ones.

As shopkeepers and other retailers increase their prices to meet secure their profits, customers are adjusting to fit these new prices within their budgets. Customers are targeting retailers that sell the eggs cheaper since the prices vary anywhere between Kes16 and Kes20.

Kenya has not been big with egg brands. This is largely because of disaggregated suppliers, who make it hard to trail produce from farm to fork. Consumer behaviours among Kenyans such as “mayai ni mayai” do not encourage the additional cost of branding.

However, several companies in Kenya still produce their own eggs and they look to brand them or at times collect from individual suppliers and resell them with their own branding to differentiate the quality of better feeding and breeding.

Some popular ones including Isinya Eggs, Green Farm Yellow yolk Eggs, Kuku Farm Eggs, Winnies Organic free range that retail mostly found in Kenyan retail giants such as Naivas, Quickmart, Cleanshelf, Carrefour etc.

Most of these egg brands package their layer grade eggs in 6’s, 15’s and a complete tray which holds 30 pieces .

For instance Isinya Eggs retail their 6’s pack for Kes125 which translates to roughly Kes21 per egg. The 15’s pack goes for Kes380 translating to Kes25 per egg and their full tray for Kes515 which is Kes17 per egg.  Most egg brands retail their eggs at this price point.

Winnies Organic Free Range Eggs and Wingu Organic eggs specialize in organic eggs or as we mostly call them here “Kienyeji”, they sell their 15’s pack for Kes471 and Kes425  which translates to Kes31 and Kes28 respectively.

Long standing impact of inflation is that it lowers the quality of life of most people, as they move towards cheaper options discouraging brands that had invested in quality feeding and right nutrition for their birds.

The ridiculous prices for a “kienyeji” egg also means what in some decades ago was the main source of protein for poor rural homes who could just rely on their small brood to constant supply of the small nutritious orbs is now a luxury for the rich.

It begs the question what will be the overall impact of abandoning egg consumption due to the current economic state?

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