Feature: COVID-19 pandemic turns a boost to Kenya's food supply


NAIROBI, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya in March, George Karithi was asked to take unpaid leave as his employer moved to decongest the workplace to curb the spread of the disease.

While he took the leave, Karithi did not idle at his home in Kitengela suburb located south of Kenya's capital Nairobi.

He invested part of his savings in farming, growing tomatoes, capsicum and later onions in both greenhouse and open fields under irrigation.

Tens of other Kenyans who had lost their jobs or were sent on unpaid leave as companies struggled to stay afloat embraced farming and other forms of agribusinesses.

Eight months later, the results are coming out as the east African nation experiences glut in the supply of various farm produce due to increased production.

These products include maize, beans, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and capsicum.

For the first time in many years, Kenyans are buying the produce for a song at a time when supply is usually lower, and they have the pandemic to thank.

"I harvested about 16 tonnes of tomatoes from my half-acre in October. It was the best thing to have happened to me this year after losing my job in a media house," said Moses Kyalo, who embraced farming.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy in Kajiado, south of Nairobi, acknowledged that the pandemic has positively rattled the sector.

"Normally, food supply is usually lower as we approach the festive season in December pushing up prices. The reverse has happened this time due to increased production as many people turned to farming for a living," said Macharia.

According to her, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be a blessing to Kenya's food supply and the agriculture sector in general.

"Without the pandemic, the office workers would not have turned to farming for survival. The COVID-19 pandemic disruption had not been all gloom after all if you look at it from that angle," said Macharia.

The high supply of food has come as a huge boost to Kenyans, a majority who are grappling with stifled earnings due to the pandemic.

In the capital Nairobi, residents are currently buying a 25kg crate of tomatoes for as low as 1,500 shillings (about 13.6 U.S. dollars), down from double the price in September due to the glut. On the other hand, a 25kg sack of onions is going at 7.2 dollars down from 14 dollars months ago.

A 90kg bag of dry maize, on the other hand, is retailing at 27 dollars following increased harvest between September and October, down from 33 dollars.

The decline in food prices has kept the east African nation's inflation lower. "Inflation remained well-anchored at 4.8 percent in October and is expected to remain within target in the near term, supported by lower food prices and muted demand pressure," the Central Bank of Kenya monetary policy committee said on Thursday, acknowledging the positive effect of high food supply.

Kenya's agriculture sector has remained resilient amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Kenya Nation Bureau of Statistics.

In the quarter March to June, the sector recorded a growth of 6.4 percent compared to 2.9 percent growth in the corresponding quarter of 2019 as all the others like tourism and manufacturing slumped.

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