Rise in Food Prices force Kenyans to cry out for love of ‘unga’

A woman along lake Victoria in Nyaudenge Beach searching for worms and fingerlings for sale to make ends meets as hunger and prices of basic commodities rises.Picture:Henry Owino
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The rising food prices, especially of the staple food, unga, are taking its toll Kenyans of all walks of life.

The most affected are ordinary Kenyans who were already struggling to eke out a living and put food on the table for themselves and their families as the price of a 2Kg of maize meal to cook ugali shot up to a record Shs160 up from below Shs100 at the beginning of the year.

Indeed, poor families have become poorer, babies stunted, children wasted and parents emaciated. Signs of abject poverty are what welcomes you as one approaches many homes in rural areas some of which were victims of the recent natural calamities like drought famine and floods.

Some businesses have collapsed as their customer’s purchasing power has been weakened by inflation and the disappearance of some basic food items from super market shelves.

Shopkeepers are in a fix, caught up in the middle of the high demand by their customer’s and the high costs of the commodities and lack of supply by their suppliers.

But this being an election year, politicians from the Government and the Opposition have politicised it by either defending and or supporting the Jubilee government’s handling of what is being termed by the opposition as “the Unga Revolution.”

The high prices have also affected other essential commodities like, milk, sugar, kerosene among others that most families require on a daily basis. This is what is making life unbearable hitting those with big families the hardest because of the extra mouths to feed.

A recent visit to Bondo sub-county in Siaya County, the numbers of families sleeping hungry is on the rise because of high food prices forcing them to depend on the local shop owner to give them credit in order to survive.

It is survival for the fittest and those who cannot are contemplating to sell their cattle, household belongings, pieces of land, or offer themselves for any casual work in exchange for food. Some cases have been reported of sexual harassment and/or abuse of female casual labourers by their employees to exploit their desperation.

This desperate situation is leading to rise in child labour and/or trafficking, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, forced and/or early marriages, school dropout and drug abuse.

Mary Akinyi, a mother of seven, says life has pushed her to the wall literally making her not know what to do next. Her two daughters are in secondary school, one is a day scholar in Form One, and the other is in Form Two. They are stranded at home due to lack of school fees.

Akinyi is also a victim of the recent government crackdown on illicit liquor business which she has always relied on to make ends meet.

Maize grain business she wanted to venture into is nowhere in the country and starting capital is beyond her reach.

“I have survived and raised my seven children through brewing liquor (chang’aa) for over five years now,” Akinyi says.  Her husband has no permanent job to provide for family, so she is ready to do anything that can put food on table for her children’s.

“The rate at which I am struggling to make ends meet, only God knows. I have  realized that circumstances forces parents to marry off their underage daughters. It can as well push one to commercial sex work,” Akinyi argues.

For Akinyi children to eat dinner, she has to spend Ksh20 on kerosene, Ksh 160 on 2kg maize flour, Ksh 20 cooking oil, and pluck any vegetables that have sprouted in the shamba due to rains to cook for her children.

“My daughters have persevered temptations from village men of bribing them with money for sex, lure them with all manner of fascinating mobile phones but they have stood with their purity. I think because of strong Christian background foundation which has also held me to fight on,” Akinyi discloses.

In the same neighbourhood, the situation is even worse as children have abandoned school to look after livestock for payment. Others are engaged in charcoal business while others have opted to work as house helps to support their families.

The situation is dire in rural areas like Akinyi’s as many families spend days without food, others depend on Good Samaritans, well wishers, engage in evil work just to ensure their stomach is full.

Moses Ajongo, 74, says he has lived long but he has never experienced prices of basic commodities shooting at the rate it does today and points an accusing finger at the government for not controlling prices of essential commodities.

“During retired President Moi’s regime, nobody could just wake up with his/her own price of food. I miss Moi’s leadership,” Ajongo laments.

He expressed fear that some of the desperate residents, especially the youth, would be forced to turn to crime in order to survive citing many cases of houses being broken and car-jacking along the Kisumu -Bondo route, cases of livestock and poultry theft among others.

According the elderly man, parents of women ready to be married off are worried about threats of raid during the betrothal ceremony, as was reported elsewhere in the country.

He expressed fear that the desperate situation is likely to be politicised during the campaigns with candidates dishing out money to influence the voting pattern in the August 8, General Elections.

Says Ajongo: “Voters are likely to vote based on their stomach needs rather than on ideology of the political party and/or candidates.”

“Depending on who will give us money, food and others things, will win elections regardless of their ideologies, political parties and even manifesto. We are hungry for food not manifesto which are never implemented,’ Ajongo alluded.

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