Kenya: City Butchers Hit as Charcoal Ban Raises Cost of 'Nyama Choma'

Photo: Liam Taylor
Logs felled by charcoal burners in Palaro, Gulu district, Uganda, February 13, 2019.

The month-long ban on charcoal burning has taken a big toll on roast meat joints in Nairobi and its satellite towns such as Kitengela, triggering a 23 per cent price rise and staff lay-offs.

Latest market spot check shows that the ban has caused an acute shortage of the commodity -- a common cooking fuel in the eateries -- that has seen prices shoot beyond the reach of many consumers.

Charcoal is widely used in both traditonal and modern nyama choma preparation methods.

Kitengela, Kiserian and Ongata towns in Kajiado County, where most roast meat joints are now struggling to stay open, have been hit particularly hard.

MIDDLE CLASS CUSTOMERS

Nyama choma barbecue, as roast meat is commonly known, attracts thousands of middle-class customers from Nairobi to the populous satellite towns for eating-out parties and is important to the local economy.

The roast meat business provides a ready market for herders in the vast pastoralist region.

Kitengela has more than 200 butcheries capitalising on the nyama choma business that employs more than 100,000 people directly or indirectly.

The price of a bag of charcoal has shot from Sh1,700 a month ago to Sh3,500, pushing up the cost of roast meat and reducing consumption.

The price of a kilo of meat has on average increased by Sh100 in the past one month, according to a survey of butcheries in Kitengela, pulling down the number of customers and forcing owners of the eateries to lay off workers.

Most butcheries and eateries now charge Sh800 for a kilo of roast meat, up from Sh650 a month ago.

Kitengela's Arusha Meat Den said consumption of meat has more than halved with the scarcity of charcoal and subsequent increase in the price of nyama choma.

EXTRA COST

"We used to sell 15 goats a day but now we can hardly do three. It is hard for us to buy the charcoal at those high prices without passing the extra cost to consumers," said business manager Charles Mutuku.

High charcoal prices, said Mr Mutuku, had forced the management to increase the price of roast meat by Sh100 per kilo.

Some butcheries have opted to stop selling nyama choma to cut losses.

Herders, who are recovering from last year's drought, are also feeling the heat having lost a big chunk of monthly sales.

"Goat and sheep meet orders have dropped to an average of two or three a day. Our livestock market is at stake," said John Kisimil, who supplies meat to several butcheries in Kitengela.

LARGE STOCKS

Reduced consumption and slow sales have also hit charcoal traders, who had stocked large amounts of the commodity, hard.

Francissica Ndunge, who has been selling charcoal in Kitengela for the past 10 years, said the situation has become dire as some days now pass without a single purchase.

"We can hardly sell the stock we had before the ban as customers are not coming," said Ms Ndunge.

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