15 April 2011

Kenya: Food, Fuel Prices Top Nation's Fears

Nairobi — The sharp rise in the cost of living tops Kenyans' greatest list of worries. And they want the political leadership to solve the problem urgently.

The rising cost of food, mainly staples like maize, rice, bread, beans and cooking oil, are the key issue the public wants dealt with, according to a poll conducted by Synovate, a research firm.

The public is also worried by the spiralling cost of fuel, which influences the price of other products and services.

The poll also found that the lead enjoyed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga amongst likely presidential candidates has dropped sharply, falling from 48 per cent to 38 per cent.

The social side of the survey found that prices of goods and services are expected to go up, after the Energy Regulatory Commission increased the price of fuel by Sh9 a litre, sparking protests from consumers and manufacturers.

The adjustment is the biggest month-on-month since December last year, when the government started regulating fuel prices to protect consumers from exploitation by oil companies.

Asked "What do you think is the main problem facing Kenya today?" 33 per cent of 2,000 people interviewed cited food and fuel prices, the cost of living and poverty.

"We will see more pressure being applied to both public and private sectors for better wages to cushion workers from the high cost of living," said Synovate managing director in charge of Africa George Waititu.

Mr Waititu, however, cautioned that higher wages would not be a wholesome solution to the problem.

He said the government needed to act on food supply, and that this could be done with better planning, which was still not being done.

The fuel price increase is set to push up the inflation rate, which rose to 9.19 per cent last month from 6.64 per cent in February.

Mr Waititu said energy and food would push the country to double-digit inflation, if the trend continued.

Famine and hunger comes second (24 per cent), jobs and unemployment third at 19 per cent, followed by political institutions and corruption and bribery at six each, the environment (three), crime and insecurity (two).

Health, water, electricity, housing, roads and education seem not worry Kenyans a lot as only one per cent of the respondents chose them.

However, despite its low score, water scarcity in urban and rural areas has been a major issue and partly the cause of the decline in food production.

The situation is expected to worsen, following predictions by the Meteorological Department that most parts of the country will receive poor rains. Only the highlands and the lake region will received normal amounts.

Ironically, it is in Western Province, which to many, enjoys good weather and arable land, that many residents (46 per cent) complained of hunger and famine compared to only 20 per cent in drought-stricken North Eastern. Eastern came second with 34 per cent of respondents naming hunger and famine as their main problem.

Generally, the price of food, fuel, cost of living and poverty topped the worries of residents in six provinces - Nairobi (29 per cent), Central (38), Coast (34), Nyanza (41), Rift Valley (37) and North Eastern (34).

Jobs and unemployment is second main problem facing Nairobi residents as it is in Coast and Rift Valley while it comes third in Central, Eastern, Nyanza, Western and North Eastern. The survey found that 34 per cent of Kenyans supported the killing of dangerous criminals by police.

In North Eastern, 67 per cent of population support the killings, followed by Western (47), Nairobi (46), Rift Valley (34), Nyanza (32), Eastern (30), Central (22) and Coast (8).

The increased cost of fuel, food and living has sparked protests in various countries, including neighbouring Uganda where opposition leader Kizza Besigye was shot and injured on Thursday while leading "walk to work" demonstration.

Kenyan consumers feel the price of fuel have even worsened since the government started the controls. Manufacturers and transporters have said they would pass the costs to consumers who have been suffering since the 2008 maize scandal.

The country imported crude at $112 a barrel in March from $95 in February. The problem was worsened by the weak shilling, which made imports more expensive.

Mr Waititu said the government had little control on fuel prices, adding that subsidizing the cost was almost impossible given the shoe-string budget it operated on.

"However the government can do a better job on ensuring that our strategic reserves for food are well replenished to cushion consumers from high food prices," he added.

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