Another day, another empty market

Thursday, July 28, 2011 - 13:24

I’ve visited Isiolo livestock market three days running and on every day, I’ve found it empty.  Today, the place where pastoralists usually come to buy, sell and trade their animals has a mere three goats to offer.

Next we try the food market.  But even here half the stalls are closed.  And the ones that are trading are virtually empty.  One seller has no more than a few bags of onions and tomatoes – it’s only 8am, so she can’t have sold out of produce already.

Rahab Mburanga, ActionAid’s data analyst, is responsible for monitoring market prices. Rahab explains that successive failed harvests have led to a shortage of staple foods, and that is pushing prices up. And the livestock situation is dire, as the poor health of the animals makes them unsellable.  No one wants to buy an animal when the chances are it won’t make it through August.

Daniel Meurje has been trading at Isiolo food market for more than ten years:

Food prices fluctuate all of the time, but the prices have never been this high.  As long as I’ve been doing this, things have never been this bad.

“But the prices have gone up and people are buying far less than before.  Now I’m lucky if I make half of what I used to.  It’s becoming a strain to make sure my children are in school and well fed.”

Most people in this region have a simple diet.  But even staple foods are becoming unaffordable.  A kilogram of sugar that used to cost around 80 shillings (54p) is now selling at 140 (94p).  Maize, the mainstay of most diets, has more than doubled in price. 

Go beyond the town and the situation gets worse.  Rural families have to pay the already high market prices, plus the transport costs.  Here, a bag of maize is as high as 80 shillings, and a bag of sugar sells at around 200 shillings (1.35p).  Naiya, a pastoralist in Daaba puts it in context when he explains that he only gets 250 shillings for selling five bags of charcoal – all he can carry to the highway. 

With food priced out of poor people’s reach it means more and more are hungry and at risk of malnutrition.  It also increases the likelihood of conflict over scarce resources, and rising school dropout rates, as parents are forced to sacrifice the children’s education so they can feed their families.

In response to the situation ActionAid, in partnership with the WFP, has scaled up the number of people it is reaching through food distributions. We provide staple foods such as maize, wheat, vegetable oil and pulses and ensure they reach the poorest. 

We have also recently launched a project that brings market price information to rural communities, so that pastoralists and farmers can compare market prices and get the best possible price for their goods. But I’ll save those details for a future blog…