In Kenya, some families eat only once a day, or not at all, due to rising food prices, writes Catherine Byaruhanga of the BBC in Nairobi.
Early in the morning, I find Florence Kambua hunched over, rummaging through the landfill outside her door to pick up plastic, glass, clothes – everything she can sell in Kenya’s capital.
The 40-year-old is dressed in a black sweater and plastic boots that go up to the knees. His work is not for the faint of heart. It is also dangerous.
In the slums of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, rotten food and stuffed diapers are flowing under his feet.
“Sometimes you end up getting diarrhea, sometimes you get a lung infection. I persevered because I have no other choice,” Mrs Kambua told me.
This mother of six has known hard times. She moved to Nairobi, East Africa’s largest metropolis, 19 years ago in hopes of a bright future.
During this period, she lost her job, her children’s father left her, and the small food stall she had set up was torn down to a new highway through town.
So what she is doing now is the only option she has to put food on the table. She earns about 100 Kenyan shillings a day (535 FCFA).
Even with such a low income, Mrs Kambua says she was able to feed her family twice a day before food prices rose.
“My kids like rice, I was going with 50 shillings (265 FCFA) [au magasin] pick up a pound of rice and I cooked for them. Now that’s impossible. “
Mrs. Kambua has turned to a well-known staple, cornmeal, a grain that is often cooked into a thick paste called Ugali, which can fill you up, but even the price has risen.
Today, she feeds her family once a day, if at all.
“Before I bought the cheapest flour for 85 shillings (450 FCFA). Now flour costs 150 shillings (798 FCFA). When I am not able to make money, we sleep hungry.”
A few weeks after our meeting, there is more bad news for Mrs Kambua, the average price of two kilos of maize flour is now over 200 shillings (1,064 FCFA), an increase of 25%.
The latest data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that annual food inflation is in double digits, with prices 12.4% higher in May 2022 than in May 2021.
Maize, which is grown in Kenya and also imported from neighboring countries, is consumed by most households.
It’s a cheaper option in lean times, but Kennedy Nyagah, president of the United Grain Millers Association, says there is now a shortage.
“I attribute it to a poor harvest due to insufficient rainfall and problems with the prices of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer,” he adds.
In Mrs Kambua’s local market, activity is low. During my two visits, it was not uncommon to see customers buy a single onion or a single tomato as they became too expensive.
“Before, a tomato that you see us selling now for 10 shillings, we used to sell it for 5 shillings,” seller Elijah Machuki Nyabutohe says to me, pointing to a basket.
“That’s why there are no buyers. They’re scared because when they buy a lot of tomatoes, they do not have the money to buy flour and they end up going to bed hungry,” I said.
Although he is far from Ukraine, he is very aware of the impact of the war there and how it has driven the cost of fuel and fertilizer up.
“Farmers need to spend more to buy the fertilizer needed to grow tomatoes. Many people end up stopping growing tomatoes because of the high cost of fertilizer and tomato seeds,” says Mr. Nyabutohe to me.
A few hundred meters from the market lives Catherine Kanini – she has been unemployed since the bar where she worked was demolished to make way for the widening of a road that joins the motorway.
The 30-year-old mother could not afford to rent a house, so she built herself a makeshift structure of mosquito nets, plastic sheets and wooden poles.
She comes from Kitui County in eastern Kenya, and like many low-income people in urban areas, she depends on her relatives to support her when prices are high.
His mother would send him food from the village, but the prolonged drought means it is not an option.
“Right now it’s very dry in our rural area. There’s no rain. When it rains, there’s food, and that’s where my mother can send food,” I said. Mrs. Kanini said.
“Now she expects us to send her something. She’s counting on us, but there we have problems.”
The rise in the cost of living is coming as Kenya prepares to hold parliamentary elections on 9 August. The issue has a prominent place in the two main candidates’ campaign to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Vice President William Ruto talks about a “bottom-up” approach to improving the economy, while longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga promises money transfers to poor households.
Mrs. Kanini has her own advice for them.
“I suggest they open factories and give us work. They should lower the prices of the basic products that they had raised the price of. So when you are able to make some money, you can go and get food.”
International Crisis Group analyst Meron Elias warns that the cost-of-living crisis could cause instability, especially in a tight poll.
“While the outcome of the election is uncertain – which is an honor for Kenyan democracy – we are concerned that frustration over high food prices and general inflation will allow politicians to mobilize slightly frustrated crowds in the streets,” he said.
“It also creates a risk that unemployed young people will be recruited to gangs to commit violence during the election period,” he continues.