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Rising food prices hurt the poor, not big agricultural companies

2017-03-20T09:58:32.402+0000 Njenga Hakeenah
Food at a restaurant. It has become expensive getting meals affordably in Kenya with the poor being the most affected. [Photo: richardinkenya.wordpress]

The drought in Kenya has hit home for most people. 

The impact on pastoralists and farming communities has been documented and cited in light of the Government declaring a national drought.

However, the impacts are already being felt beyond the farm. The drought has also meant rising food prices for basic commodities in Kenya. Food inflation in January 2017 stood at 12.4% with highest price increases recorded for cabbages, spinach, sukuma wiki, maize flour and maize.

“Our families take only one meal a day and the worst part is that the available food might not be balanced as it should be. We all know that for effective growth and development of our children, they must take in a balanced diet that includes carbohydrate, proteins and vitamins… All these are not sufficiently obtained because of rising food prices,” says Zubeda Kamene.

Rising food prices squeeze the incomes of mainly the poor who do not have much disposable income. The poorest families spend most of their income on food (in some cases, up to 80% of income) and average household incomes for the poorest have been decreasing for a number of years.

In the face of climate change, droughts are becoming more common. Yet it seems the policymakers and gatekeepers are still oblivious. In 2011 Kenyan consumers felt the pinch of the drought. It is tragic that the government has not changed course since then: It still warmly opens its doors to agriculture multinationals, whose agenda (despite their positive propaganda) is not the welfare of the farmer, feeding the population, or the mitigation of drought, but rather filling their own pockets. Industrial agriculture is what they preach: soil depleting agro-chemicals, monoculture and cash crops.

Essentially, Kenyans are paying the price: Big agriculture pushes a model of agriculture that requires more money from farmers at startup to buy specialised seeds and agrochemicals; the overwhelming majority of the crops are monoculture and cash crops which bring in modest revenue to the population but the real money is made by foreign interests. Meanwhile, these monocultures and cash crops deplete the soil, making the land less resilient at a time of drought.

Failed crops due to droughts mean less food which in turn means the government must now find means to feed a starving nation. At this point in time international imports are being considered for Kenya, and it is rather ironic that these imports may be handled by the very players who are at the root of the problem: Big agricultural giants who are happy to supply maize (in other countries even opening the door to the import of GMO maize) and other staples at a hefty price to the taxpayers of our nation.

Greenpeace Africa calls on the government of Kenya to take the right steps this time around, make a shift towards an agricultural system that enhances resilience rather than increases risks. 

Ecological agriculture benefits the farmer, the environment and the health of the consumer.

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