If the Covid-19 pandemic has not taught us that the world is truly a global village, then the Russian invasion of Ukraine will.
Kenyans thousands of miles away are already feeling the heat of war. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen a sharp increase in the price of cooking oil. Although the situation was already bad due to global inflation, the war made it worse. Ukraine accounts for almost 46 percent of global sunflower oil supplies. Russia follows in second place with 23 percent.
Kenya is one of the many countries that depend on imports. This explains why in a week of the Russia-Ukraine war the price of a 20 liter can shot up again to Sh5,500 for the cheaper brands. The same can be seen in the gas sector, where the price has almost doubled in recent months. Russia is once again among the top oil producers, affecting both oil and gas prices.
The war has also shown that Kenya relies on the global supply of wheat, with Ukraine and Russia among the largest producers. But every crisis has an opportunity. Until the Covid-19 pandemic, few knew that face masks were imported from China. The cost shot up to about Sh200 per mask. However after a few days of looking inward we had an oversupply of it and the prices dropped to 20 Sh and later even 5 Sh.
Disinfectants were produced in abundance by both small and large operators. We even had dozens of prototype ventilators when the Kenyans innovated. To tame the rise in cooking oil prices, cottage industry can provide some relief. Aside from sunflower, cooking oil can be pressed from avocados, peanuts, soybeans, canola seeds, and sesame seeds.
I refuse to believe that Kenyan farmers cannot produce enough of this crop to sustain these industries and provide the all-important oil.
I also refuse to believe that Kenya cannot produce enough wheat. In 2021, a media outlet reported that wheat imports fell by 89 percent as government restrictions forced millers to mop up local supplies first. According to the Department of Agriculture, imports fell to 267,000 bags in June from 2.5 million bags in May. This essentially means that importers ignore local supplies for whatever reason.
Even if we had to import, why would we do it from countries thousands of miles away?
Kenyans are not lazy, what usually lets them down is cartels in the distribution chain that give the impression that they have no market for their products. Indeed, Kenya can become a leading exporter. We only import what we cannot produce.
Writer is a presenter at Radio Maisha