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Kenyan families struggle to survive with commodity prices surge

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Households in Kenya have to dig deeper into their pockets to buy food and other basic commodities as prices sustain upward trend for the third consecutive month.

Families in the East African nation are spending as much as twice the amount of money they used two months ago on commodities like vegetables, maize flour, sugar, milk, electricity and even rent.

Inflation in the country has hit a four-year high, standing at 9.04 percent in February from 6.99 percent in January, pushed up by fast-rising food and fuel prices, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) latest data showed Wednesday.

The cost of a kilo of sukuma wiki (kales), considered as the poor man’s vegetable as it is consumed by millions of citizens, has risen by 11 percent between January and February, from 0.48 U.S. dollars to 0.54 dollars, survey in retail outlets in the capital Nairobi showed.

According to KNBS, at 0.57 dollars a kilo, the price of the vegetable has increased by a record 47 percent from a similar period last year.

Similarly, a 2kg packet of sifted maize meal is now going at 1.2 dollars up from 1.1 dollars last month. And compared to a similar period last year, the cost has gone up by 20 percent.

For cabbages, a kilo is going at 0.74 dollars from 0.70 dollars last month and 0.48 dollars in February 2016, a surge of 56 percent.

On the other hand, a 2kg packet of sugar is currently retailing at 3 dollars up from 2.8 dollars last month and 2.5 dollars in February last year.

Houses using 50 Kwh of electricity a month are currently paying about 6 dollars up from 5.5 dollars last month and 5.2 dollars last year, according to the government statistics agency.

Only the cost of cooking gas on the items in the basket the agency used to calculate inflation in February remains low, at 19 dollars, a decline of 14 percent from 23 dollars during a similar period last year.

The result is that families are struggling to survive, with some forgoing commodities like milk, sugar and meat whose high prices are making them a luxury.

A majority, however, are buying in smaller quantities for affordability in the process spending more than they should.

The worst hit are middle and low income families that now have to squeeze their budgets as they struggle to spread shrinking incomes to cater for all their needs.

"I used to spend about 20 dollars a month on my household budget, besides food, but last week I went for shopping in a supermarket and spent 28 dollars on even fewer goods.

"I could not believe it when I had to buy 2kg of sugar at 3 dollars and rice at the same amount.

"Life has become too expensive," said Justin Burandi, an accountant at a government agency, as he captured the plight of many Kenyans.

Edna Njeru, an office administration assistant in Nairobi, noted that she has no choice but to do away with some items in her household budget, including fruits.

"Why buy fruits when you can barely afford the main food items like vegetables, tomatoes and maize meal?" she posed, before adding, "It is two weeks since I last bought fruits for my children because I have to check my spending."

Low income families, on the other hand, have turned to buying basic items in the smallest quantities as they balance their incomes.

Butcher operators in Nairobi, for instance, are currently selling meat from a quantity of as low as 0.2 dollars, with many consumers hardly buying a kilo of the commodity.

Analysts noted that the food situation in Kenya has deteriorated, having a massive impact on inflation, as the food component of the Consumer Price Index, which carries a weighting of 36 percent has been on a gradual increase over the past three months.

"What has worsened the food situation is the ongoing drought, which has made the country rely on expensive food imports.

"The only thing that can save consumers is the coming of the rains otherwise if the situation persists, food would be unaffordable," said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.



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