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Fuel Costs and Political Violence Contribute to Rising Food Prices


Food prices in Kenya have risen significantly since the beginning of the year. And with many farmers still displaced from their land because of the post-election violence, there is growing concern that a food crisis might be looming. Sara Nics filed this report for VOA from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

It’s market day in the Nairobi slum called Kawangware. Pineapples, peppers, mangos, cabbage and countless other fruits and vegetables are laid out on tarps. Customers and vendors haggle over prices, while others share news and gossip.

Today much of the talk here is about the increase in food prices. Food prices in Kenya have risen significantly since the beginning of the year. And with many farmers still displaced from their land because of the post-election violence, there is growing concern that a food crisis might be looming.

Susan Kihia sells fruit and vegetables from a wooden stand. She buys all of her wares from the central wholesale market in downtown Nairobi, where she says the cost of staple goods is increasing daily.

"Things like for cooking. Potatoes, tomatoes, onions and carrots," she says. "Potatoes -- last month it was 3,200 for a bag. A bag is like 120 kilos. But now when you go to the market, the prices are 3,800, 4,200, like so. "

That’s a price hike from about 45 to 60 dollars a bag.

Prices of non-perishable foods are also increasing. Maize meal porridge is the staple of the Kenya diet. At his supermarket down the road from the Kawangware produce vendors, Joseph Machatha says maize meal prices have gone up 26 percent since the end of last year.

"For now," he says, "we are selling at 68 shillings per packet of 2 kg; it used to be 54. The sales have gone down because people are fearing the price. They can not afford. "

Machatha says the prices of cooking fat, milk, rice and other staples are also increasing. All of that contributes to a loss of about 140 dollars worth of profit every day in his shop compared to its income last December.

It’s not only consumers and retailers who are feeling the effects of inflation. Farmers are also being affected.

Ephantus Karinja helps operate a farm in Kenya’s Central province. He says fertilizer, pesticide and seed prices are going up. And so is the cost of fuel to run the tractor, the water pumps and the truck he uses to carry his bananas to market in Nairobi.

In addition, he says, as the 10 laborers on the farm felt the squeeze of inflation, he had to raise their salaries.

"So you see," he says, "with the laborers, you have to bargain and come to a certain figure where you also feel that whatever he is going to get from you, someway it is going to sustain him and also to sustain the family and other basic needs."

Karinja says he fears that food prices in Kenya will only continue to increase unless the government steps in. He would like to see the kind of subsidies for agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and seeds that many developed countries have. He also says the government could help streamline the agricultural infrastructure to make it easier and cheaper for him to get his goods to market.

But back at her fruit and vegetable stand, Susan Kihai says there is a more critical step that the government must take to avert a true food crisis in Kenya.

She says there aren’t as many farmers now as there were before the violence that followed Kenya’s national election in December. Since then about 600,000 people left their homes and are now staying at camps for Internally Displace People.

"The farmers," she says, "left their farms and now they are in the IDPs so there is no way they are going to farm and still they are in the IDPs. I am hoping that the government will do something about the IDPs. I hope that the government will support them, including the fertilizer prices, the seeds, the farms and all that. I hope the government will do something very quickly and very urgently."

The short rains are just beginning in Kenya. It’s a time when farmers are planting food to harvest over the next six months. That’s why Kihai says it’s critical to get farmers back on their land as soon as possible. She says they must plant now in order to be able to feed the people of Kenya six months from now.

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