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Are staple foods becoming more expensive for urban consumers in Eastern and Southern Africa?
June 2009
Nicole Mason, T.S. Jayne, Cynthia Donovan, and Antony Chapoto

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges USAID as the source of this document


Executive summary

CThe world food and financial crises threaten to undermine the real incomes of urban consumers in eastern and southern Africa. This study investigates patterns in staple food prices, wage rates, and marketing margins for urban consumers in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia between 1993 and 2009.

There is high correlation among wage rate series for various government and private sector categories. We find that average formal sector wages rose at a faster rate than retail maize meal and bread prices in urban Kenya and Zambia between the mid-1990s and 2007. Although the 2007/08 food price crisis partially reversed this trend, the quantities of staple foods affordable per daily wage in urban Kenya and Zambia during the 2008/09 marketing season were still roughly double their levels of the mid-1990s. The national minimum wage in Mozambique also grew more rapidly than rice and wheat flour prices in Maputo from the mid-1990s through the 2004/05 and 2006/07 marketing seasons, respectively. During the 2008/09 marketing season, Maputo minimum wage earners’ rice and wheat flour purchasing power was still higher than in the mid-1990s and roughly similar to levels at the millennium. These findings obtain for formal sector wage earners in Kenya and Zambia and minimum wage earners in Mozambique only. The majority of the urban labor force in these countries is employed in the informal sector; therefore, the general conclusion of improved food purchasing power over the past 15 years may not hold for a significant portion of urban workers. Maize marketing margins trended downward between 1994 and 2004 in urban Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, while wheat marketing margins declined only in Kenya and Zambia.

For the public sector, important strategies for keeping food prices at tolerable levels include strengthening and improving crop forecasting and the food balance sheet approach for estimating need for imports, facilitating imports in a timely manner when needed, and ensuring the continued availability of low-cost staple food options for urban consumers through small-scale processing and marketing channels.

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