Since the early 20th century, maize has been the main staple crop of Kenya. Historically, urban food security has depended on ensuring adequate supplies of maize at tolerable prices. This study examines the current consumption patterns of the main staple carbohydrate products in Nairobi – maize, wheat, rice and cooking bananas – in order to highlight policy issues affecting urban food security.
The paper identifies the factors which drive changes in the amount, the form of urban maize meal consumption and examines how consumption and expenditure patterns differ according to household income. The paper also investigates whether the marketing channels used by the poor to secure their staple carbohydrate products differ from those used by relatively high-income consumers. Data used in the study comes from a cross-sectional random survey of 542 households in Nairobi’s urban areas in 2003. This is compared with analysis of household survey data conducted in 1995 in Nairobi.
Key findings from the study include:
while generally volumes of staple carbohydrate consumption have declined, it is the poorest section of the urban population that has been affected the most
on average, there has been a fall in consumption of maize products and rice – the poorest have experienced this decline the most
consumption of wheat products has grown significantly particularly among higher income groups
posho meal consumption continues to be a preserve of the poor because it is relatively inexpensive compared to sifted maize meal
the poorest income groups rely on mainly small shops (dukas) while well-off households rely more on dukas and supermarkets
Regarding the food security policy, these findings implicate that wheat is emerging as an important expenditure item among the urban households, and thus should not be left out when formulating food security policies. Another implication of these findings is the importance of adopting measures aimed at enhancing productivity for domestically produced wheat and lower infrastructure costs so as to lower wheat prices for the benefit of the poor.