Kenya doesn’t have to suffer from the Russia-Ukraine tiff

An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022. [Agency]

If the Covid-19 pandemic did not teach us that the world is truly a global village then the Russian invasion of Ukraine will.

Kenyans, thousands of miles away are already feeling the heat of the war. The past few weeks alone, we have witnessed a sharp rise in price of cooking oil. Though the situation was already bad due to global inflation, the war has compounded it. Ukraine accounts for nearly 46 per cent of the global supplies of sunflower oil. Russia comes in second with 23 per cent.

Kenya is one of the many countries that rely on imports. That explains why in one week of the Russia- Ukraine war, the price shot up again with a 20 litre can now in the regions of Sh5,500 for the lower priced brands. The same is being witnessed in the gas sector where the price has almost doubled over the past few months. Russia again is among the largest producers of oil and that affects both the prices of oil and gas.

The war has also revealed that Kenya relies on the global supplies for wheat with Ukraine and Russia being among the largest producers. However, every crisis has an opportunity. Until the covid-19 pandemic occurred, few knew that face masks were imported from China. The cost shot up to around Sh200 per mask. Yet, in a few days of looking inward, we had an oversupply of the same and the prices came down to Sh20 and later even Sh5.

Sanitisers were produced in abundance by both small scale and large scale operators. We even had tens of prototypes for ventilators as Kenyans got innovative. To tame the increase of cooking oil prices, cottage industries can offer some relief. Apart from sunflower, cooking oil can be pressed from avocados, groundnuts, soybeans, canola seed, and sesame seed.

I refuse to believe that Kenyans farmers cannot produce enough of this grain to sustain these industries and supply the all-important oil.

I also refuse to believe that Kenya cannot produce enough wheat. In 2021, a media outlet reported that wheat imports dropped by 89 per cent when the Government reined in and forced millers to mop up local supplies first. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, imports dropped from 2.5 million bags in May to 267,000 bags in June. What this essentially means is that for whatever reasons, importers usually ignore local supplies.

Even if we needed to import, why should we do it from countries thousands of miles away?

Kenyans are not lazy, what usually lets them down are cartels in the distribution chain and that create the impression that they have no market for their produce. Kenya can actually become a leading exporter. Let’s only import that which we cannot produce.

Writer is an anchor at Radio Maisha

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