Action, should speak louder than words.
As Kenyans came to terms with the drought that overwhelmed the country earlier this year, another crisis waited for them when maize flour shortages started to hit the shelves. Many households struggled to afford their favourite staple, ugali, as maize flour peaked at a high of Kshs 155 per two-kilogramme packet – the highest that has ever been experienced in the country, to date.
The Government’s intervention was to subsidise the flour to stabilise the price of the commodity in the market. Albeit a provisional solution, this was a welcome move that enabled consumers to buy a two-kilogramme pack of unga at Kshs 90.
This short-term solution begs the question of what is next after the subsidy ends. Will the prices stay as they currently are or go back to what they were before? Was the subsidy a political gimmick influenced by electioneering?
While we appreciate the Government’s intervention on maize, let’s not forget that other food commodities are still expensive and unaffordable to most Kenyans. For instance, the price of a kilo of meat is retailing at upwards of Kshs 420; a one-litre pack of milk will cost you Kshs 65; while Kshs 20 will only buy you 3 tomatoes at your local mama mboga kiosk. What will accompany the ugali? It may be our staple food, but ugali is not our only source of nourishment. Kenyans do not only eat ugali and call it a day.
As much as we all love our ugali, it is not sufficient to sustain us with all the nutrients we need. A balanced diet is vital for good health and wellbeing. We need food that provides our bodies with enough nourishment in terms of energy, proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals in order to live a healthy lifestyle.
In Kenya, more than 10 million people including children, are estimated to be chronically food insecure. This means they experience hunger for hours every day and are constantly undernourished. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), chronic hunger is undernourishment caused by not ingesting enough food that contains essential nutrients needed to lead a normal and active life.
In many cases, chronic hunger is caused by the inability to afford food. The rural and urban poor are most vulnerable due to the fact that the cost of living is high.
According to the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey of 2005-2006, most people are in a low-income bracket and use approximately 40%-60% of their income on food. This does not only limit accessibility but also the ability to enjoy variety. For a majority of our population, everyday meals mainly consist of tubers and legumes which lack the right amount of calories to enable productivity.
With the prices of nearly all foods being high, the fact that the Government decided to subsidise only unga does not solve the problem. After the budget reading in April 2017, the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Henry Rotich, slashed tax on prices of a few basic commodities in a bid to ease food prices. While a positive move, what is needed are measures that ensure that most basic commodities are sustainably affordable, accessible and available to all Kenyans.
In this regard, perhaps it is time to consider setting up a Food Price and Regulatory Committee that will enhance and implement The Price Control Act 2011 passed into law during the Kibaki administration. The Act provides for ‘the regulation of prices of essential commodities in order to secure their availability at reasonable prices’. Other than the Treasury Cabinet Secretary, there is no institutional body mandated to regulate and oversee the provisions of this law. Further to its mandate, the committee could help monitor the unscrupulous trading, black-marketing, hoarding and curtailing the access of essential food commodities.
In addition, it is worth noting that the presence of exploitative middlemen in the food chain seeking significant profit margins results in hiked food prices – a burden that is shouldered by consumers. The existence of middlemen is also fuelled by greedy cartels that are in cahoots with devious politicians who have mastered the art of using food insecurity and high food prices as a way of scoring points, particularly during elections. The politics of food has to stop. The Government, in conjunction with devolution county governments, should establish and enforce mechanisms to shorten the route from food production to consumption. This should ideally be done in collaboration with all pertinent stakeholders including farmers, transporters, traders and consumers. One immediate way of achieving this is by rooting out corruption and cartels in the food chain.
Kenyans are suffering at the hands of immoral politicians whose only objectives are winning votes and offering “trust me promises” on food security rather than implementing workable solutions. It is about time that Kenyans exercised their power to end this menace! They have to take charge and vote for leaders that have a compelling vision and have sustainable solutions to our perennial food insecurity problem.
By Faiba Kombo. Faiba is a member of the Route to Food Alliance.