Kenya was among the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa whose citizens experienced the highest spike in food prices in February compared to the same month last year.
A new report by the World Bank says the rate at which food prices in Kenya increased over one year - technically known as food inflation - was close to that in war-ravaged countries on the continent.
“Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola and Kenya have the highest rates of food inflation in the region as of February 2022,” said the World Bank in its latest edition of Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual publication that reviews the continent’s economy.
Food inflation in February was at 8.69 per cent compared to 6.9 per cent in the same month in 2021.
The report noted that Kenya was among the countries which experienced two-digit food inflation in the region. More than four out of five countries experienced year-on-year food inflation that exceeded five per cent.
Food inflation has since risen to 9.92 per cent in March, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.
Kenyans have been grappling with high food prices due to myriad factors including the Covid-19 pandemic, drought and more recently the war between Russia and Ukraine.
The World Bank fears that elevated fuel and food prices will affect consumer inflation across several countries in the region.
“Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, supply chain problems, high transportation costs and devastating weather effects from floods and droughts were already pushing up food prices in several low- and middle-income Sub-Saharan African countries,” the global lender says.
KNBS data shows that prices of critical commodities in a typical Kenyan shopping basket increased by 5.56 per cent in March compared to 5.08 per cent in February.
The increase was attributed to a jump in the retail prices of wheat flour, cooking oil, bar soap, detergents, sukuma wiki and spinach.
Nonetheless, allocation to the agricultural sector over the 2022-23 financial year was slashed by 15 per cent to Sh63.9 billion. In the current financial year ending June, the critical sector was allocated Sh75.7 billion.
KNBS said the overall year-on-year inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or the cost of living index, rose mainly due to an increase in prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
The food basket, which takes up a huge chunk of poor families’ income, rose 9.92 per cent in the review period.
“Prices of food items in March 2022 were relatively high compared with prices of food items recorded in March 2021,” said KNBS Director General Mr Macdonald Obudho in a statement.
The price of cooking gas experienced the sharpest increase with a 13-kilogramme cylinder retailing at an average price of Sh2,866, an increase of 38 per cent compared to Sh2,074 in the same month last year.
In some places, the price has touched a high of Sh3,500. One of the products that have burrowed into Kenyans' pockets - and has even been a butt of jokes on social media - is cooking oil. A litre is retailing at an average price of Sh332, an increase of 35 per cent from Sh246 in March last year.
The increase has largely been due to a spike in the global prices of palm following depressed harvests. The limited supply of palm oil has been triggered by unfavourable weather, infrastructure issues and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wheat flour, another critical ingredient for preparing chapati, mandazi and cakes, also experienced an increase with a two-kilogramme packet selling at Sh151 from Sh129.
Kenya imports most of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Other products whose prices escalated in March include bar soap, with an 800-gramme block retailing at an average of Sh145 compared to Sh120 in March 2021. Others are milk, rice and spinach.