World Bank: Price hikes denying 18pc of Kenyans a decent meal

Traders sorting wares at a market in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Close to a fifth of Kenyan families cannot afford a decent meal due to a sharp increase in food prices, a new World Bank report has indicated.

This comes even as an increasing number of families resorted to buying food and other essential items on credit as a coping mechanism against the high cost of living.

The Kenya Economic Update shows that between November 2021 and March 2022, households that said they were unable to access staple food was 36 per cent.

Of this, the proportion that cited higher prices increased sharply to over 50 per cent. This means that 2.2 million households could not afford a decent meal due to the spike in food prices, using the 2019 census data. 

Food prices have continued to rise at a faster rate, touching a high of 12.4 per cent in May compared to 9.9 per cent in March, which means that even more households might have had challenges affording staple foods.

More families - particularly poor ones who spend close to half of their income on food - may soon opt to skip some meals as a coping mechanism as they did at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when many working Kenyans were rendered jobless.

Prices of basic foodstuff including cooking oil, milk, wheat and maize flour, rice, potatoes and tomatoes have gone through the roof.

The World Bank survey shows that although the number of households that had to cut their food and non-food consumption has declined slightly compared to the pandemic levels, they are still high compared to the pre-pandemic period.

In addition, more families have been forced to make purchases on credit or take a loan for shopping even as others have increasingly relied on government support, according to the report, which assesses recent economic and social developments in Kenya. 

A little under 90 per cent of households reported using one or more strategies to cope in November 2021-March 2022.

“A large share of households continues to use coping mechanisms,” reads the report. 

Cost of basic items such as milk, cooking oil and flour have increased sharply. [iStockphoto]

The most common approaches Kenyans are relying on to deal with the high cost of living, according to the report, include savings at 32 per cent, and seeking additional income-generating activities at 31 per cent.

But that was not the case in reduction of food and non-food consumption compared to July-October 2021 period.

This strategy, which includes skipping of meals, the survey found, remains among one of the most frequently used, pointing towards food insecurity.

“Continued reliance on coping mechanisms suggests households still lack disposable income; for instance, the use of credit remains at its highest level since the start of the pandemic (27 percent of households).”

An increasing number of households, 11 per cent, relied on government assistance.

This was nearly twice as many as in and July-October 2021, following an increase in government assistance in 23 counties affected by drought.

Kenyans have been grappling with a record jump in food prices, which threatens to sink even more families into poverty.

Official data shows that prices of goods and services increased at a rate of 7.1 per cent in May, just 400 basis points shy of the official upper limit of 7.5 per cent.

The rate at which prices of products in the economy increase - technically known as inflation rate - is supposed to be maintained at between 2.5 and 7.5 per cent.

Many families are skipping meals as a coping mechanism, survey shows. [iStockphoto]

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), whose main roles include stabilising prices, was forced to increase its benchmark rate for the first time in almost seven years to 7.5 per cent as it moves to address the increase in commodity commodities.

The survey by the World Bank showed that one-third of households continue to go hungry due to lack of food.

Further, the share of households unable to access staple food has increased to 36 per cent, with higher rates in rural households (38 per cent versus 33 per cent in urban households.

Bad weather, coupled with global factors such as the Russia-Ukraine war and the lingering effects of Covid-19, have conspired to create a food shortage in the country and globally, with many families finding it hard to put ugali on their dinner tables.