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Drought and war conspire to pinch pockets

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By Judith Gicobi

From the government data, the cost of life has become unsustainable for most Kenyans, with prices of basic necessities rising substantially in the previous two months.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that prices of key items in a typical Kenyan shopping basket rose 5.56 percent in March, up from 5.08 percent in February.

A rise in the retail costs of wheat flour, cooking oil, , detergents, bar soap, Sukuma Wiki, and spinach was blamed for the rise in basic commodity prices.

Kenyans are dealing with a jittery global market as a result of the Ukraine conflict and a severe drought that has hampered the harvest of important food crops.

The total year-on-year inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or cost of living index, increased mostly owing to increases in the costs of food and non-alcoholic beverages, according to the national statistician.

During the study period, the food basket, which accounts for a large portion of poor households’ income, increased by 9.92 percent.

Other categories that contributed to the increase in March’s inflation rate were furnishings, household equipment, and routine household maintenance, which grew by 6.44 percent; housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels (4.91 percent); and transportation, which increased by 4.91 percent (3.66 per cent).

“Prices of food items in March 2022 were relatively high compared with prices of food items recorded in March 2021,” stated KNBS Director-General Macdonald Obudho, in a statement released on Thursday.

Cooking gas prices rose the most, with a 13-kilogram costing an average of Sh2, 866, up 38 percent from Sh2, 074 in the same month previous year. The price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has reached a high of Sh3, 500 in some areas.

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The rise in the retail price of cooking oil in the Philippines is mostly attributable to a jump in worldwide palm prices as a result of poor harvests. Unfavorable weather, infrastructure challenges, and the Covid-19 outbreak have all contributed to the low supply of palm oil.

Wheat flour, another important component in chapati, mandazi, and cakes, has also risen in price, with a two-kilogram bag now costing Sh151, up from Sh129. The majority of Kenya’s wheat is imported from Russia.

Other products which prices have risen in the past month include bar soap, which now costs an average of Sh145 per 800 gram, up from Sh120 in March 2021.

Although pump prices jumped by only 9% to an average of Sh135.5 per litre, they would have been higher if the government’s fuel subsidy scheme, which pays oil marketers for their margins, had not been in place.

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