KENYA: Food crisis prompts diet changes

Thursday, June 12, 2008
A 50 percent rise in food prices in Kenya since the start of 2008 has led many people to drastically reduce their daily diets, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

"There has been a sharp increase in food prices, especially of the staple, maize," WFP information officer, Gabrielle Menezes, told IRIN.

A two-kilogramme packet of maize flour, currently retailing at Ksh80 (US $1.3), cost just Ksh50 earlier this year.

"The situation in the arid districts of Turkana and Mandera [northern Kenya] has especially deteriorated, with pastoralists migrating to neighbouring countries in search of pasture," said Menezes.

She observed that the food security situation was made worse by two months of widespread violence that followed a presidential election in December and by unfavourable weather conditions. She added that the agency was running an emergency operation, currently targeting 1.2 million people affected by drought and the post-election crisis.

High food prices have caused affected communities to adapt their diets, explained Menezes, such as eating only one meal a day, cutting down on protein, such as meat and beans, and opting for cheaper vegetables such as kale.

Mother-of-four Grace Njeri, 42, who lives in Kibera, a Nairobi slum, told IRIN: "I cannot even afford the packed maize meal. I now buy maize and take it to a trader who can mill it for me. This way I spend almost half of what I would if I bought the packed unga [maize flour]."

"Meat is a luxury I cannot afford; I would rather buy vegetables with the little money that I get as a house-help," she added. "Even eggs are too costly. I don't know where I will get the extra cash to ensure my children have a balanced diet. Right now it is only ugali [maize meal] or githeri [a mixture of maize and beans] - they are the only meals I can afford."

On May 31, police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators in the capital, Nairobi, who were protesting the high cost of staple foods and calling for subsidies.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Kenya), the Kenya Red Cross Society and the Ministry of Agriculture are also discussing the provision of seeds that are quick producing, such as beans.

In a humanitarian update, OCHA said a taskforce on food security had been formed to analyze the impact of food price increases and the food security situation across the country.

"Expected on 19 June, this analysis will provide the basis for the government position on food security,"