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Dollar-touting Gulf buyers fly into Kenya hunting beef for export

The disruption of usual meat supply channels from Kenya to the Middle East has seen beef traders from the Gulf fly into Kenya with pockets full of dollars which has contributed to the inflation of beef prices in the country to record highs.

According to the KNBS March 2024 data, the average retail price for a kilogram of beef (with bone) is Sh625. This is a 16.6 per cent rise from the same time last year. The last time a kilogram of meat sold for below Sh500 in Kenya was two years ago in March 2022, selling at Sh499. 97.

Meanwhile, according to industry players, the price of export-destined beef has increased from between Sh500-560 to Sh720 in the past year. 

Beef exports to the Middle East are a rising source of Kenya’s foreign exchange. In 2022, the country earned an estimated ($351 thousand) Sh47 million from beef products– a 77 per cent jump from the previous year.

Most of this was shipped fresh or chilled to Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

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Due to the 2020 to 2023 severe drought that ravaged East Africa, over 9.5 million livestock are estimated to have died in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya by March last year. This saw a complete decimation of stock fit for slaughter and export that livestock keepers are yet to recover from.

Previously, it would take goat traders such as Mcharo Mbogho 14 days to source and supply 1,000 goats. Today, he informs, it takes him three weeks to rustle just 200 goats.

“Usually, beef traders, who are often Pakistani, in countries like Dubai and Bahrain would place orders through us. But as it became increasingly difficult to meet their orders and for them to honor their contracts, they had to fly into Kenya,” explained Mcharo who’s also the proprietor of Kilengeta Farm in Taita Taveta.

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These organised exporters who exclusively buy in dollars are now competing on the ground with local slaughterhouse buyers for already limited stocks. Though the dollar to Kenyan shilling exchange rate has since eased off to Sh134, in February of this year, the dollar traded for Sh169– a 53.6 per cent increase from 2020. “Two years ago, we’d sell a kilo of meat for about Sh450. Today, because of the high purchase cost, I’ll need to sell a kg for at least Sh675 to make a profit,” said Gandi Mwaisakeni, a butchery owner in Bomeni Ward in Taita Taveta.

In local markets, a goat that would cost bulk buyers Sh5,000 now sells at minimum for Sh8,500 if you know your way around, and for Sh9,000 for first-time buyers.

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