Why fried kuku and chips is now out of reach for most Kenyans

7 minutes

For those who grew up in the 1990s like my wife and I, ugali with indigenous chicken, commonly known as kuku kienyeji, remains our favourite delicacy. 

Not so for our kids. My son and daughter, 12 and four respectively, relish deep-fried broiler chicken, commonly known as Kuku Porno, accompanied with fried potato chips, preferably from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), a US-based fast-food chain. So a good weekend-out for them is not complete without a visit to one of the many fast food joints in Nairobi.

But this weekend it is the mother’s craving for kuku kienyeji that carried the day.

However, as I would later come to learn, both delicacies (ugali with kuku kienyeji for parents and fries with kuku porno for kids) are threatened by what economists describe as inflationary pressures.

Anyway, on this Sunday, soaking up all the afternoon heat, I accompanied my wife to where she buys her indigenous chicken. She took me to a middle-aged man known as Jeff. She insisted that Jeff sells the best kienyeji chicken in our neighbourhood. 

Jeff was warm and welcoming, but his price could easily be a turn-off. Even though I didn’t know much about the pricing of indigenous chicken (It has been a while since I bought chicken), I found the Sh1,800 that Jeff quoted a little prohibitive.

“Rather than telling you Sh1,800, I have just started with the actual price,” he told us.

My wife insisted that the last time she came here, a similar chicken—weight and all other price determinants included—went for Sh1,300.  

Convinced that he would not climb down, my journalistic instincts quickly kicked in, hoping to gain a story even if I had lost the price battle.

I asked him what was driving up the prices of chicken, and he said the transport costs have gone through the roof.

“I used to pay Sh50 to transport one chicken. Now I use Sh100,” Jeff told me.

He told me that he buys his kienyeji chicken from Kapenguria, the largest town in West Pokot County. Kapenguria is not only famous for having the prison where Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta was incarcerated in 1953 for his alleged role in the Mau Mau Rebellion, but also for offering a perfect breeding ground for chicken.

It would take you approximately eight hours driving from Kapenguria to Nairobi.  

The high cost of fuel over the last few months owing to the high global prices of crude oil combined with Kenya Kwanza government’s new tax measures such as the 16 percent value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products has dampened even the strongest of the wanderlust.  

Indeed, fuel consumption between January and June dropped to the lowest levels in more than five years, excluding the Covid-19 pandemic period, pointing to reduced economic activities including movement from one place to the other.

A litre of Super Petrol, which powers most of the cars on the Kenyan roads, retailed at an average of Sh212.25 in September 2023 from 180.05 in September last year, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.  

The same unit of diesel, critical for powering most productive processes including commercial transport, has increased by more than a fifth to an average of Sh201.73, which is likely to feed into their overall prices including those of kienyeji chicken.

Generally, inflation –a measure of cost of living over a 12-month period –has been easing with prices in the economy rising by 6.9 percent in September, slightly higher than 6.8 percent in August.

Prices in the economy have been rising with inflation touching a five-year high of 9.6 percent in October, occasioned by drought, disruption in global supply chains due to the war in Ukraine and the hike in interest rates by the Central Banks in advanced economies.

Favourable weather has since brought down prices of food, but higher fuel prices continue to pile pressure on the cost of living in Kenya. 

But what about our children’s broiler chicken and French fries?

It is even worse, said Jeff.  

“Ukiona mtu analisha hizo za broiler na layers, achana na yeye, mtolee kofia,” said Jeff.

He reckons that a bag of chicken feed is going for Sh5,500, up from Sh2,300 a year ago.  

However, the Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers (AKEFEMA) notes that as at the end of August a 70 kilogramme bag of dairy was going at Sh3,000, layers marsh jumped to Sh4,500 from Sh3,800 in April, while growers marsh was at Sh3,500.

This points to tough times for consumers who will have to absorb extra cost when buying animal products such as eggs.

But the inflationary pressures against the two children’s favourite dish goes beyond chicken with the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), a cost of living index produced by KNBS, showing that a kilogram of Irish Potatoes rose by 26.1 percent to retail at Sh101.77 in September.

Month-on-month, this was an increase of 18.4 percent with a kilogram of Irish Potatoes retailing at an average of Sh89.95.

No wonder the last time I went out with my children, the amount of fries we were served was insultingly small.

Ironically, it was a different story in July when prices of potatoes dropped by 12.2 percent to retail at an average of Sh89.07 compared to Sh101.41 in June.

It was the same thing around this time last year when fast food restaurants were exceedingly generous with their servings of fries, as the market was flooded with potatoes.

“The problem with potatoes is that there is no storage. So when farmers harvest, prices collapse, but once the harvest ends, prices revert to where they were before,” said an agricultural economist who works with the government.

It is bearable for us adults being denied our favourite meal. After all, we have several alternatives, including enduring a night without food.  

It is true as a 2019 study by the Kenya Markets Trust Society found that chicken is the most consumed meat among the high income and middle class due to these groups’ increasing sensitivity to health as well as safety.

But for us—and thousands of other low middle class families that the African Development Bank described as the floating middle class—we don’t eat it as often as beef and ugali.

For my wife and I, we grew up in urban homes where chicken was a special-occasion-meal. Those who reared chicken in rural areas did it for sentimental reasons –every family had to have them.

In those days, unless something big happened, chicken—especially with chapati—would only show up on the dinner tables during Christmas. Scarcity breeds value and that is why to date, we relish a meal of kienyeji and ugali.

Now, it seems, unless inflation eases, we will need to tame our craving for kuku kienyeji.

I don’t know what will happen to our two children.  The price of potatoes might ease, but not so for Chicken. 

Hopefully, President William Ruto has allowed for the importation of yellow maize to be used for the manufacture of animal feeds. This will ease the pressure on white maize, critical for the preparation of ugali, a staple in most Kenyan households.  

Meanwhile, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) is probing the suspected fixing of prices in the animal feed sector.

Could it be that the high prices of animal feeds that threaten to deny our children their favourite meal could be due to price fixing by rogue dealers?

The inquiry seeks to establish among other things the prices, costs, quantities produced, supplied, and purchased.

Support MtaaSkika.

Fund independent journalism.