A Ugandan family of six that relies on groceries on average now requires about Shs36,000 to afford breakfast, lunch and dinner for its members, according to a survey by this newspaper.
This is a 33 per cent increase in the cost of the same basket of food and associated household items within a year from May 2016.
In accounts offered by dozens of vendors and buyers across the country, a family of six on average in a day consumes a kilogramme of meat, a loaf of bread, one-quarter of a bunch of matooke, a kilogramme of maize or cassava flour and half a kilogramme of sugar, rice and beans as well as one litre of milk.
A separate finding by Info Trade Uganda, a market research organisation, also confirmed general increase in food prices over the past year.
Currently a kilogramme of beef costs Shs10,000, a bunch of matooke Shs30,000, a kilogramme of rice Shs3,800, a kilogramme of maize or cassava flour at Shs3,000 and Shs1,900, respectively. A litre of packed milk costs on average Shs2,500 while fresh unpacked milk goes for Shs1,300 per litre.
These computations, however, exclude auxiliary items such as cooking and spices whose prices have markedly increased.
Our surveys in nine main markets, four in Kampala and five in regional towns, show that each family is on average spending between Shs20,000 to Shs39,000 more on the same basket of food this month than a year ago.
The prices have risen more sharply in Mbale and Masaka towns in eastern and central regions, respectively.
This makes them the most expensive towns to live in, followed by Kampala and Arua in West Nile.
Items that have registered the biggest increase in prices include, matooke, with a bunch costing Shs10, 000 to Shs20,000 more today than last May, and a bag of charcoal whose price is up by Shs20,000 in Mbale and Shs15,000 in the capital.
To make matters worse, the increase in the price of a kilogramme of sugar in the past fortnight from Shs3, 500 to, in some places, Shs7, 000 has alarmed the country, piling pressure on the government that has imposed an unenforceable Shs5,000 price cap.
This newspaper conducted the mini-surveys on May 16 and inquired about the prices of a kilogramme of maize and cassava flour, a bunch of matooke, a kilogramme of beef, beans, rice and sugar, a litre of milk, a loaf of bread, and a bag of charcoal items essential to fix breakfast or a main meal.
Our survey shows only a kilogramme of meat has over the past twelve months had a fairly stable price, at Shs10,000 across the country and there is a marginal increase in the price of milk.
Prices of auxiliary items such as cooking oil and spices such as tomatoes and onions have also gone up, creating head ache for family heads on fixed income to put even a single decent meal on the table.
The markets our reporters visited included, Nakasero, Nakawa, St Balikuddembe or Owino and Kamwokya in Kampala and Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Masaka and Mbarara main markets.
It excludes supermarkets where some of the selected food items cost even more.
Part of the reason for the upswing in prices, according to traders, is the massive crop failures due to drought and exploitative commission charged by middlemen in the wake of increasing transport fares.
“The prices appear to be high but we don’t get profits as the transport and inputs are also high,” said Mr Umar Katende, a farmer and vendor at Nyendo market in Masaka. “After selling [the food stuff], we end up making losses.”
Ms Patricia Nakabugo, a mother of four and a fresh food vendor in Nakawa market in the city, is one of millions of Ugandans struggling to feed her family of six.
“Our meals, breakfast, lunch, supper, used to cost us about Shs20,000, but now to afford these (same food stuff), we have to spend about Shs40,000 yet our income has remained the same,” she said.
Like many with a fixed earning, she says it is hard for her to make a trade off about what to spend on current consumption needs and save for her children’s tuition as well as housing.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the annual food crops and related items’ inflation rose to 21.6 per cent for the year ending April 2017 from five per cent in May 2016. It is not only individual families seeing dark clouds in the economy.
Two days after the International Monetary Fund slashed the country’s economic growth by a digit-point to 3.5 per cent, Uganda Revenue Authority, the government’s tax collector, announced Shs240b shortfall in revenue collection and signaled it was unlikely to meet its 2016/17 financial year target.
The big thunder of a gloomy economy has stricken disposable income for households, resulting in diminished welfare, low demand, and loan defaults and, as police records show, an increased crime.
“Times are really tough, the prices of food stuffs have gone so high and particularly this month, sugar, breakfast, bread have become a luxury in our home because we can’t afford them,” Ms Nakabugo told this newspaper at Nakawa market last week.
Her husband, a produce dealer, said the rising costs of living prompted him to nudge his wife, who until 2014 was a house wife, to try her hands out on business to supplement the family income.
Some nine million Ugandans, according to official statistics, already live below poverty line, meaning they are less padded against prices fluctuations and are promptly distressed by the slightest upward movement in prices of household essentials.
Rising rent and multiple dues mean tenants and traders have to transfer the costs to buyers through increasing prices.
“The price of everything here (Nyendo market) is hiked and now unaffordable,” said Masaka Town resident Alex Kirangwa, adding, “Instead of buying a bunch of matooke, you end up buying its fingers.”
In the main market in Kamokya, a Kampala Suburb, Mr Zubairi Magoola said the higher prices have resulted in reduced number of customers as well as profit margins.
Bread at Shs4, 500 per loaf, he said, is a “luxury in most homes”.
He said: “At my home, we have started taking tea without sugar like it happened during (former President) Idi Amin’s time.” Mr Magoola suggested that manufacturers too are more likely to take a hit as households adjust their spending to priorities such as food and education ahead of clothes, beverages and beauty accessories.
This is unlike the case for the wealthy, a tiny fraction of the country’s population, who are able to accommodate abrupt and drastic price swings within their income and with comfort.
According to Uganda National Bureau of Statistics, Uganda’s rich spend most of their income on transport (luxury vehicles), the middle class on utilities and rent while food takes the bulk of the poor’s budget. And things seem more likely to get worse for the most vulnerable.
Mr Gaster Lule, the Chairman of Uganda Bakers Association, told Daily Monitor in an interview that they plan to review the price of bread upwards after consultations with their members.
This, he says, is due to the sharp rise in the price of sugar, a key ingredient for making bread and other confectionaries like cakes, cookies and pastries.
The price of a loaf of bread has between May 2016 and this month increased by a maximum of Shs500. Mr Lule said individual bakers decide the price for other confectionary products.
Mr Nathan Ngobi, a fresh food seller, said the prices could be increasing this season due to high demand growing demand in Southern Sudan where risks are high but profits temptingly handsome.
In the city’s busy Nakasero market, Mr Asuman Kizza has been vending vegetables for more than 20 years.
He perched on a stool beside his stall, chin buried in folded right palm, and wore a pensive look.
“A year ago, we used to buy a 100 kilogramme bag of onions from the farmers at Shs170, 000 but this has increased to Shs250, 000,” he said, shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
He acknowledged the inflation was taking a toll on his family’s welfare and business. “We used to wait for the farmers to bring the products to us. But right now we have to book the products from the gardens if we are to stay in business,” Mr Kizza said. The story is not any different in St Balikuddembe (Owino) market, considered by city dwellers as one of the cheapest markets in Kampala.
Mr Silas Wambete, a maize flour vendor, used during the past four years to stock more than 8 tonnes of maize. Now he can afford to store only half that quantity.
“This is the highest food prices have gone in all the three years I have been doing this business. Because of the high prices of flour, I can no longer stock enough like I used to do a year ago,” he said. Mr Wambete said he now sells a 50-kilogramme bag of maize flour at Shs135, 000, up from Shs60, 000 a year ago.
Additional reporting by Felix Warom, Christopher Kisekka, Joel Tooyeronga, Yahudu Kitunzi and Felix Ainebyoona