Costly sukuma wiki lightens wallets in poor households


Maurice Oloo tends to his sukuma wiki plantation at his village in Gwassi, in Homabay county. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The price of sukuma wiki rose highest last year, by 11 per cent as supply of the vegetable was disrupted by Covid-19 restrictions.

Data from the Economic Survey 2021 shows that a kilogramme of sukuma wiki sold at an average Sh49.07 compared to Sh44.19 the previous year.

The vegetable is a staple in most low-income households, because of it is easily available and costs little.

The most notable price declines were those of kerosene, cabbage, diesel and petrol which fell by 17.89, 10.46, 8.72 and 6.56 per cent respectively last year.

“However, retail prices of sukuma wiki, loose maize grain and cooking gas increased substantially over the review period,” read the report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

The depressed supply of sukuma wiki was not due to bad weather as the country received adequate rainfall last year, with the agricultural sector growing by 4.8 per cent.

Reduced supply of the vegetable was most likely because of the restriction on movement to control the spread of Covid-19, particularly for small traders who could not afford to get a travel permit. 

Prices of other agricultural products either stagnated or reduced in a year that was marked by a contraction in purchasing power as Kenyans either lost their jobs or had their pay reduced.

The inflation rate — the general increase in prices of goods and services — was the lowest in over 10 years at 4.6 per cent in June 2020.

Nonetheless, real wage earnings decreased by 1.5 per cent last year compared to an increase of 3.1 per cent in 2019.

The last time there was a bigger reduction in wage earnings was 2017 when they dropped by 2.5 per cent.

The cost of living has since gone up as the economy re-opened and demand for consumer items soared.

Prices of petroleum products dropped in 2020 on reduced demand due to lockdowns imposed globally to curb the spread of the virus.

The inflation rate has since started to go up owing to the high cost of food and fuel, which take up a huge chunk of people’s income.

New taxes introduced by the government also contributed to the spike in cost of living with consumers paying more for airtime, financial services and internet.

Prices of food, which takes up over a third of poor people’s income, also went up last month with the Kenya Met Department noting that the amount of rainfall that the country received between March and April was largely disappointing.

Should the next harvest not be satisfactory, things will only get worse for Kenyans as food prices skyrocket. 

Price of cooking fat, for instance, continues to increase, with a 500-gramme pack selling at an average of Sh123 in June this year from Sh106 last year.

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