Analyzing Covid-19 impact on fruit and vegetable value chain in Kenya


by Kevin Onyango and Christine Chege | December 22, 2021

Different voices. Different impacts: “Eating is stress, feeding children is a challenge”. “We eat once, and only at night”. “It’s been disastrous”. “No food, no money, and people are meandering up and down the residential estate. Life has been hard”. “No money for sanitizer. The masks are being sold for a little money, but that little money is not there”. “The 7 pm curfew affected business hours, hence creating a lot of rush, and prices of certain goods have increased since vendors are few and some closed business”. “To avoid contracting the virus, in my family we eat fruits”.

The pandemic had different effects on fruit and vegetable producers, consumers, and retailers, demanding different policies and approaches to tackle the situation. A recent study by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and partners, supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), provides evidence on the pandemic's implications for the fruits and vegetable value chain in Kenya. The primary data comes from 3,275 households and 1,289 food retailers in Nairobi and Kisumu, and 1025 producers of fruits and vegetables in Kiambu and Kisumu Counties. The quantitative assessment of the survey data is ongoing, but some interesting qualitative responses from the study provide insights into the variety of experiences among fresh fruits and vegetable value chain actors.

Figure 1. Conceptual framework of the study


Impacts on consumers

As a result of the pandemic's impact on the economy, people's consumption habits have changed. We observe a decrease in the consumption of nutritious foods, particularly more nutritious fruits and vegetables, as well as other protein sources. Most consumers reported a decline in the variety of fruits purchased, owing mostly to a lack of funds to purchase fruits and their increased cost. Most households lowered their food consumption, skipped meals, and ate less desired foods due to a lack of income or resources. Most households reported an increase in food costs occasioned by higher food prices compared to pre-pandemic period. However, some voices heard seem to indicate small shifts (such as the replacement of some proteins with vegetables or transfer of more decision-making power in the household to women) that can be potentiated in future interventions:

“I was affected much since I sell poultry products like chicken and eggs and customers are not buying them; instead, they have to buy vegetables and silverfish. I sell my eggs at Ksh 20 each and hence most customers cannot afford them and even chicken is very expensive for them during this time.” - 28-year-old man consumer from Lindi Kibra, which belongs to the major slum of Kibera in Nairobi.

“The fruits and vegetable business was opened after the pandemic to cope with life, as earlier I was the sole breadwinner and after the government eased the COVID-19 restriction measures, I left the fruits and vegetable business to my wife to run it as I went back to my original occupation.” - Male consumer from Mashimoni, Kibra.

Impacts on retailers

Businesses were severely affected by the restrictions and measures put in place to combat the outbreak. The government's implementation of a curfew to stem the spread of the disease had a detrimental impact on the majority of food enterprises. Most businesses reported significantly lower incomes and a lower number of customers in 2020. Some businesses altered the primary product they sold in 2020 compared to the previous year. For instance, some vendors who sold indigenous vegetables and watermelon changed to other fruits and vegetables with relatively higher demand such as tomatoes and bananas.

“Covid-19 has affected my business greatly. Many of my customers lost their jobs. I used to take my commodities to hotels and am not able to do so now. I no longer get orders for onions and tomatoes from hotels. Many of my customers experienced financial difficulties and were buying on credit. You get to the end of the month and the customers haven’t got anything to repay the credit with.” - Vendor from Kawangware.

In this dire situation, many started to think about alternative ways to provide food:

“I am just a consumer; I have no business and no source of income anymore. Here in Nairobi, we don’t produce our own food and things get tough in such situations. We must check how we can do urban farming in Nairobi so that we can provide food from within. We don’t have to depend on food from elsewhere.” - Consumer (formerly a vendor) from Kawangware.

“Income has drastically reduced, and many people have become idle after losing their jobs. Everyone now wants to sell kales to at least get some income. It’s the reason why you can see many traders in this area. The good thing is that no one leaves this place(market) empty handed.” - Vendor from Kawangware.

Impacts on producers

Producers have also been deeply affected by the pandemic. Movement restrictions forced many to stop sales and production, reducing incomes dramatically. Producers also reported lower dietary diversity, changes in primary commodities produced, reduced use of farm inputs (many agricultural input providers had to close as a result of pandemic restrictions) and difficulty in financing business activities, followed by cash flow issues caused by order cutbacks.

There are no people coming. That is why I have reduced my production. You must be smart because if you produce commodities on a large scale, nobody will take them, and if I give them to you on credit, I will never see you again. So, I produce a small quantity and you pay me immediately as I give them to you.” - Kisumu-based female producer.

At the same time, people think about new opportunities and highlight useful lessons learned:

“I think what needs to be done is grass-roots initiatives to support local production and savings culture. We have started adapting by bringing the farmers together to see that we can get solutions together and share ideas on how people do farming elsewhere. The government needs to come to see how local initiatives and programs can be improved and supported.” - Kisumu-based male producer.

“COVID-19 taught us hygiene, and people must wash their hands when coming from the toilet or after doing any chores like changing a baby's diaper. Before handling food, you must ensure you wash your hands the right way. Then you can prepare food for your family. There are lessons we learned because of COVID-19, and we should ensure we stick to them." - Elderly Kisumu-based female producer.

The full report of this study, which will be available soon, gives an informed picture of the pandemic's effects on the fruit and vegetable value chain in Kenya, as well as identifies prospective entry points for further food and nutrition interventions to address the pandemic’s consequences. Having a clear understanding of the various impacts on value chains will assist policy makers in Kenya and hopefully other regions in Africa and globally to design appropriate policies targeted at the different categories of value chain actors.

Kevin Onyango is Research Associate and Christine Chege is a Scientist from the Food Environment and Consumer Behavior Research area at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. 

This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by, the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 

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