Poor households skip meals to beat inflation

Trizer Wesonga, a fresh food trader at Nairobi’s Marikiti Market, cannot remember the last time she had a proper lunch.

This is because her total daily earnings are too little to feed her family and pay for her bus fare to and from Kayole, one of Nairobi’s poorest residential estates, where she lives.

The mother of two copes with the soaring inflation — which hit a four-year high of 9.04 per cent this week — by sacrificing her lunch to afford dinner and other household expenses. 

Her husband, a mechanic, struggles to pay rent and school fees for their children. Until last year, Ms Wesonga lived a low-key life as a housewife, but tough times forced her to venture into business to supplement the husband’s income. 

Theirs is a daily struggle to make ends meet that is so familiar with millions of low income households countrywide.

“Times are really tough,” she said when the Business Daily visited Marikiti in downtown Nairobi.

With a severe drought, fuel prices and a weakening shilling forcing a steady rise in prices of basic commodities beyond the reach of the estimated 50 per cent, who live below the poverty line (spending less than $2 (Sh206) per day) — the pain of inflation has hit the poor hardest.

Expensive food and fuel lifted Inflation to the highest level since June 2012. The rally in food prices has been attributed to the prevailing drought conditions coupled with the ongoing recovery of petrol and diesel prices in the global markets.

READ: Rising food and fuel prices lift inflation to four-year high

Motorists, including cab drivers and motor cyclists, have subsequently taken a hit from the higher petroleum prices.

Gamaliel Ombeva, a city motorcycle taxi operator , commonly known as boda boda, yesterday said his margins have thinned to Sh600 a day from Sh1,000 a year ago on account of rising costs.

“I’m now making less cash on rising petrol prices. I can no longer afford the luxury of things like new clothes and proper meals,” he said. Such spending cut-backs mean sluggish business for traders that in the long term translate to depressed economic activity.

Taxi drivers reckoned that with Sh1,200 they could buy petrol that covered 100 kilometres, mostly with 1500cc Toyota vehicles but the same cash can now only cover 80km. Petrol is retailing at a 17-month high of Sh100.27 a litre in Nairobi from Sh86.50 same month last year representing a 16 per cent increase or Sh14 more a litre.

Diesel, which is mainly used to power farm machinery, trucks and buses hit a 26-month high of Sh89.26 a litre or Sh21 more a litre from last year.

For the thousands of farmers, who use tractors to prepare their land, an increase in the cost of diesel or petroleum means a rise in the cost of ploughing that could force huge cutbacks on acreage under crops and lay the ground for future food shortages.

Kenya has over the years grappled with food shortfalls despite having large tracts of arable land. This has partly been blamed failure to adopt mechanised farming and continued reliance on rain-fed farming.

Food and transport costs have a significant weighting in the basket of goods and services used to measure inflation, making them main drivers of inflation.

Ranalo Foods on Kimathi Street has already increased the price of a plate of fish and ugali by Sh100 to Sh800 in tandem with the in the cost of transporting the popular delicacy from the lakeside city of Kisumu and costly maize flour, tomatoes and greens.

Back at Marikiti, Ms Wesonga reckons that a seven-kilo basket of onions now goes for Sh400, up from Sh350 last year, a situation that has cut the flow of customers.

On a good day, she can manage Sh1,000, after parting with Sh40 as City Hall fee, Sh30 as morning fare and Sh80 as return fare. Poor homes like Wesonga’s spend nearly half their income on food.

Consumer goods companies are, therefore, expected to take a hit as households calibrate their spending to prioritise essentials such as food and education ahead of clothes, drinks and beauty accessories.

Wealthy homes unaffected

But while the majority households are battling steep price increases a small brigade of rich individuals remain unaffected.

These wealthy homes have the financial muscle that the less privileged lack to stay unscathed during bouts of galloping inflation as is currently the case.

The jump in the cost of living seems to have had little impact on a golden clique of Kenyans whose purchasing power has remained intact.

Flamboyant city lawyer Donald Kipkorir, who owns a fleet of fuel guzzlers like Range Rover, Jeep and Mercedes Benz, belongs to this camp.

“I even don’t know the price of things like fuel, food and such. I’m never bothered by these price changes as they don’t affect me,” he said. 

“If it were property prices going up, now that would get my attention,” he added.

His sentiments were echoed by billionaire businessman Chris Kirubi who said he could cope with inflation.

“It’s the small people that the government needs to step in and cushion from rising costs.”

Wealthy homes are often cushioned against food inflation because food accounts for a negligible portion of their income unlike the poor.

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The city’s rich spend most of their income on transport, the middle class on utilities and rent while food takes the bulk of the poor’s budget, according to KNBS.

A two-kilo packet of the staple maize flour is up to an average of Sh126 in February, up from Sh105 the same month last year, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

A kilo of sukuma wiki is up to Sh54 from Sh36 over the past year while a similar quantity of cabbages rose by Sh26 to Sh74.8 over the period.

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