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New survey: Rising food prices are changing what people eat

A new survey carried out by Oxfam and GlobeScan finds that the rising cost of food is forcing people to change what they eat – either eating less or differently. 76 percent of over 2,000 Kenyans surveyed  said they had changed their diets in the past two years – the highest percentage recorded in any country.

The survey – part of the new GROW campaign – spoke to over 16,000 men and women in 17 countries, including urban and rural areas of Kenya and Tanzania. It asked six main questions. Here are some of the findings from this region…

What is your favourite food?

  • Globally the preference was for pasta and rice, but African favourites were generally maize-based. Kenya’s favourite was (unsurprisingly) ugali, which featured in nearly half of all answers. In Tanzania it was much closer, but banana and meat came out just ahead of combinations of rice, maize and beans.
  • Interestingly, in our shrinking globalised world, food trends didn’t vary much between generations. Younger Kenyans and Tanzanians – even in the cities – listed the same foods as the eldest, and traditional foods held sway. Fast food and western influences like chips and pizza were notably absent.
  • There were some clear regional differences. Githeri (a traditional mix of corn and beans) was the favourite dish of nearly a quarter of Kenyans in the central and eastern regions, yet was barely mentioned in western Kenya or at the coast. In Tanzania combinations such as rice and beans, and maizemeal and fish, were nearly three times as popular in Dar es Salaam as in Arusha, where bananas, meat and vegetables were much more common.

Do you have enough to eat on a daily basis?

  • While over a quarter of people in Kenya and Tanzania said “yes, always”, more than half said they only sometimes or rarely have enough food – nearly four times the global average. The most common answer in both countries was “some of the time”
  • There were striking regional differences in Kenya. 22% in the east and 21% in the west said they “rarely” had enough to eat, while just 1% in Nairobi and 2% in the Northeast said so. Given the huge urban poverty and high prices in Nairobi, and that Northeastern province is one of the most affected by the current drought and many cattle have died, this seems very surprising. Was it down to the individuals surveyed? The sample size? Different cultural understandings of the question? Not sure.

Which factors do you think impact most on food production?

  • From a choice of six factors, a third of people in both Kenya and Tanzania picked the price of fuel and transport as the most important. Changing weather patterns also scored highly.
  • The important role of government policies was highlighted by 26% of Kenyans. Not only was this three times higher than in Tanzania (9%), it was also much higher than the global results, where 15% of people picked this answer. A good sign that Kenyans are more politically aware than others? Especially younger Kenyans… 18-24 year olds were the most likely to pick this one
  • Tanzanians on the other hand were much more likely to highlight the importance of producers’ level of access to seeds, credit, fertilisers and other inputs. 17% of Tanzanians gave this answer, compared to 9% worldwide. Interestingly 18-24 year olds mentioned this five times as often as over-45s.
  • The survey asked people about their educational background. Generally it didn’t make a lot of difference to the answers, but here people with less education seemed more likely to answer “weather patterns,” whereas higher educated people said “government policies”.

What concerns you most about the food you and your family eat?

  • The cost of food, according to a massive 88% of Kenyans. In Western Kenya this rose to 95%. In Tanzania three quarters of people said the cost.
  • Availablity of food was the next biggest concern, followed by the health and nutritional value (which younger Kenyans were twice as likely to mention as a concern as older generations). In both countries the impact of food production on the environment and people was the least important – picked by just 9% of Kenyans.

Do you agree? “I no longer eat some of the foods that I did two years ago”:

  • 69% of Kenyans “strongly agreed” – compared to a global average of 23% and by far the highest answer in any of the 17 surveyed countries. Overall 76% of Kenyans said they agreed to some extent. The results on this were pretty overwhelming – there seems no doubt that people’s diets are changing.
  • In Tanzania the answers were more mixed, though still well above average. 47% of people agreed, though there were strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum with 31% strongly agreeing and 27% strongly disagreeing.
  • There were big differences between gender and regions in Tanzania (though not so much in Kenya). 36% of women strongly agreed, compared to 26% of men. 41% of people in Dar es Salaam agreed, but only 17% in Arusha.

Why do you no longer eat those foods?

  • In a word – money. 79% of Kenyans said they no longer eat certain foods because they are too expensive. This rose to 86% in Nairobi. Just 5% of people said choices were due to taste or health reasons

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