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More hunger on the way as food inflation goes past 28-month high

A family shares a meal. [Courtesy, Facebook]

The continued rise in basic commodities including maize flour and cooking oil risks sending food inflation beyond a 28-month high.

A packet of two kilogrammes of maize floor has crossed Sh200, adding pressure on consumers’ food basket that is already rattled by high prices of other items including bread, rice and cooking oil.

Consumers running away from rising prices of cooking gas were dealt a blow last week with a rise in the prices of kerosene, adding to the cost of preparing a meal.

Now food inflation—a measure of the rise in the prices of a given basket of food items—looks set to rise past the current levels of 28 months given that a rise in the cost of fuel is expected to filter into all manufactured goods.

Food inflation hit 12.4 per cent last month—a record only dwarfed by the 14.8 per cent of February 2020— and looks set to rise further as prices of food items continue to rise.

A half-a-litre packet of fresh milk is now retailing at about Sh60, bread has hit Sh59 and prices of other commodities are also on a rise.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority last week added Sh9 to the price of a litre of petrol, diesel and kerosene to send the prices of these commodities to record levels.

Now transporters are loading this cost on manufacturers then to retailers, meaning that goods are reaching consumers at an increased price.

The government has cited various reasons for the rise in the cost of living including global supply bottlenecks, the war in Ukraine and the fall of the local currency.

Treasury has indicated that it may not be sustainable to shield consumers from rising cost of petroleum products and that it will continue to cut the fuel subsidy gradually.

"The challenge was that before we built sufficient capital within the stabilisation fund, a number of dynamics evolved, including the war in Ukraine that has set us on a path of price increases in the energy sector," said Energy and Petroleum CS Monica Juma. "You know that the shilling has weakened, not very much because we are holding out. But the impact of all those dynamics have been the increase in the prices."

Politicians who participated in passing legislations that increased taxes on some of the goods, are now engaged in accusations and counteraccusations even as consumers feel a squeeze on their pockets.

Treasury on the other hand has blamed bad weather and the lingering effects of Covid-19 for creating a food shortage not just in Kenya, but also globally.

Rice and wheat imports have also become expensive owing to a weaker shilling against the dollar. The local currency has lost over 16 per cent of its value since March 2020.

However, this and similar rhetoric from leading political aspirants ring hollow for Kenyans confronted with the shock of higher prices at every trip to the market.

Prices for consumer goods in May continued to trail upwards and in some cases registered double-digit growth, putting basic goods beyond the reach of millions.

Consumers are now spending at least Sh80 more on a two-kilogramme packet of fortified maize floor compared to Sh119 in May 2021.

A litre of cooking oil has added at least Sh119 in the 12 months to May 2022 while bread has added about Sh5.

A two-kilogramme packet of maize that sold at Sh138 in April, was selling at Sh147 by the end of May and could be higher today going by the trend of fortnightly increases in prices.   

In April, Sh500 would have got one half a kilo of cooking fat, a packet of wheat flour, 800 grammes of bar soap and a fresh packet of cow milk with balance.

Today, you will have to drop off one or two items from your basket or add some money to take the same items home.

The increase in the cost of basic commodities has pushed up the country's overall inflation to 7.1 per cent as at May and there are fears this may rise beyond the government’s desired higher limit of 7.5 per cent.

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