Sabela Kiregia's Farm in Kenya

Rising food prices hurt the poor, not big agricultural companies

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 grain.

“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 carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins…All these are not sufficiently obtained because of rising of food prices.” – Zubeda Kamene

National average retail prices of selected commodities
Source: KNBS – CPI and Inflation Rates for January 2017 

Food prices

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. Meanwhile, average household incomes for the poorest have been decreasing for a number of years.

Droughts are becoming more common in the face of climate change. Yet, it seems the policy makers and gate-keepers are still oblivious. Kenyan consumers felt the pinch of the drought from 2011, and it is tragic that the government has not changed course since then. Government still warmly opens its doors to agriculture multinationals, whose agenda 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 that requires more money from farmers at startup to buy specialized seeds and agro-chemicals. The overwhelming majority of the crops are monoculture and cash crops which bring in modest revenue to the population. 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.

Sabela Kiregia's Farm in Kenya
Sabela Kiregia sorting vegetables in her farm – Greenpeace visits farmers that have successfully adopted practices (diversification, agroforestry, water harvesting) that help them cope and mitigate the effects of weather extremes and climate change in the areas where they do their farming. Some of these practices fall within the definition of ecological farming.

An urgent shift is needed

Failed crops due to droughts mean less food which means the government must find means to feed a starving nation. At this point, international imports are being considered for Kenya. It’s 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.

For more information you can read the full blog on the current drought here and check out our reports Building Resilience in East African Agriculture in Response to Climate Change and the Financial benefits of Ecological Farming in East Africa.

Media contacts:

Nokuthula Mhene, Senior Food for Life Campaign Manager, +277 951 293 63

Iris Maertens, Interim Communications Officer, Food For Life campaign, +254 77491 84 78