Surging food prices turn shoppers into bargain hunters
With an out-of-work husband, housewife Esther Kamande is all too familiar with the struggle of feeding a family of three in Kenya’s urban setting amid the surging food prices.
She has been forced to make painful decisions including scaling down on the number of meals they consume in her household as the effect of high food prices takes a toll.
Her husband, a graduate has been unable to secure a stable source of income for nearly four years now. After his hotel studies, he found a job in the tourism industry only for the opportunity to evaporate during the pandemic.
He’s now working as a real estate agent where he’s paid on commission and can barely manage to support his young family.
Food prices in Kenya have remained stubbornly high in recent months, forcing Esther’s family to devise ways of navigating the storm.
“We need about Kes500 per day for meals alone. But with food prices at an all-time high, we are down to about two meals,” Esther, 28, told Maudhui while shopping for groceries in deep in Wangige market, a suburb about 18 kilometers from Nairobi city center.
For Esther who works as a shop attendant in Kikuyu, Wangige that is eight kilometers away is the market centre that offers everything at considerably low prices for all her household needs.
The market’s close proximity to rich farmlands in Kiambu County also provides thousands of buyers, who usually troop in from far and wide on the market day Thursday to stock up on a wide range of affordable farm products such as spinach, cabbages, onions, nduma, and similar others.
With just Kes10, I get to buy a bunch of freshly harvested spinach, and pay Kes55 for a kilo of onions, she said.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the national average price of a kilo of onions (leeks and bulbs) went down by 2.3 percent to Kes118 from Kes122 in December last year. A year ago, the same quantity of the vegetable sold at Kes128.
Esther is not into this bargain hunting alone: “We have joined hands with a number of women friends where we raise money and come to buy our household goods jointly in bulk at wholesale prices.
“For instance, a 10-litre container of cooking oil goes for Kes1,800 here while a 25-kilo bag of rice costs Kes3,250, that is, Kes130 per kilo. At times, we even request the shopkeeper to divide the bag of rice in half (12.5Kg) to fit our budget,” noted Esther, explaining how a unit of eight women is innovating to steer clear of high prices charged for common household goods in retail shops and supermarkets.
In comparison, a 10-litre container of vegetable cooking oil is currently retailing at over Kes3,000 in supermarkets across Kenya while a 25-kilo bag of rice would set you back at least Kes5,600.
After doing the monthly shopping, she said, the group shares the goods bought with respect to one’s contributions.
“Even shopkeepers from the neighbouring market centers come to replenish their stocks from the wholesaler in Wangige,” she said.
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In December last year, Kenya announced measures to allow a limited duty-free import of 10 million bags of maize and 600,000 tonnes of milled rice, which policymakers expect will help to moderate the prices of these two food items.
“I am making the point that this will assert a downward pressure on prices but more generally on food inflation,” Central Bank Governor Njuguna Ndung’u said during the January Monetary Policy Committee briefing.
Until recently, Kenya’s young and rising urban population, generally enjoyed economic security and comfort until Covid-19 struck triggering layoffs and wage cuts.
A total of 730,000 jobs were lost in 2020 at the height of Covid-19 when Kenya’s economy contracted by 0.3 percent according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Limited job opportunities as employers struggle to take more workers coupled with high inflation, which was reported at 9 percent for January 2023, are pushing families without steady incomes to the edge, forcing them to come up with creative strategies to survive.