As coronavirus steals jobs, urban Kenyans look to their rural families

A woman waits, while adhering to social distancing, for a food distribution in Nairobi. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2020

As coronavirus steals jobs, urban Kenyans look to their rural families

  • As coronavirus-related restrictions and economic downturns make bringing in an income harder, many urban families in Kenya

NAIROBI: In the last three months, teacher Faith Njeri has been a regular customer at a courier service office in Nairobi, collecting parcels sent from her village three hours drive north of the capital.

When the coronavirus pandemic closed the private school where she taught, “I was left jobless,” she said. Efforts to feed her family by washing clothes failed “as people avoided any intrusions in their homes for fear of getting infected with the virus.”

With three hungry children and no alternatives, she called her parents in her home village, asking them to send food to keep the family afloat.

“We did not have any money, and we needed to survive,” she said. “When it became apparent that hunger would kill us instead of the virus, we turned to our people back in the village.”

As coronavirus-related restrictions and economic downturns make bringing in an income harder, many urban families in Kenya — and in other countries around the world — are looking to their rural families for help.

In some cases, the calls for help represent an abrupt turnaround in relations, as city dwellers with jobs, who once sent regular cash to support their families at home, now find themselves the ones in need of help.

The added burden on rural families — some of them struggling to feed themselves as more extreme weather linked to climate change hurts harvests — has been substantial, they and farm experts say.

“Most (rural) families have been constrained as the little they had was sent to Nairobi to sustain their relatives,” said Phillip Oketch, a dairy expert with the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project.

Njeri’s mother, who farms in Gathuthi, in Nyeri county, said 30 percent or more of her earnings have gone to sustain her jobless children and grandchildren in Nairobi through the pandemic.

Previously, her four children sent home about $500 each year, she said — but this year they have instead sent four of her grandchildren to live with her in the village, to try to ease costs in the city.

Joseph Kimathi, another farmer from the village of Katheri in Meru county who has sent food to his children in Nairobi, said the pandemic had created a substantial financial burden for farmers.

“I had to forego profits and ensure the survival of my three children in the city, whose forms of livelihoods were suddenly cut by the pandemic,” he said.

Kenya’s lockdown eased in early July but an economic downturn linked to the COVID-19 pandemic means many urban residents are still receiving a reduced paycheck or struggling to find work, Oketch said.

Doreen Akinyi, who lost her job as a hotel waitress, said she continues to rely on a weekly pack of fish and maize flour sent by her aging mother in Mambo Leo, a village in Kisumu County.

Pressure on harvests

Zaverio Chabari, executive director of the nonprofit Strategies for Agro-Pastoralists’ Development Kenya, said the need for rural families to send food to city relatives has been particularly difficult as the country grapples with harvest losses to flooding and locust swarms this year.

“By the time the COVID pandemic struck, much of the food at the farms was already ruined,” Chabari said.

Transportation also for a period was a challenge thanks to coronavirus-linked movement restrictions and road flooding — though Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture quickly classified food transport as an essential service.


Demand issues ‘to overshadow OPEC+ supply next year’

Updated 29 October 2020

Demand issues ‘to overshadow OPEC+ supply next year’

  • Libya's rising production adding to pressure on oil markets

DUBAI: The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies will have to contend with a “lot of demand issues” before raising supply in January 2021, given throughput cuts by oil refiners, the head of Saudi Aramco’s trading arm said.
OPEC and its allies plan to raise production by 2 million barrels per day (bpd) from January after record output cuts this year as the coronavirus pandemic hammered demand, taking overall reductions to about 5.7 million bpd. 

“We see stress in refining margins and see a lot of refineries either cutting their refining capacity to 50-60% or a lot of refineries closing,” Ibrahim Al-Buainain said an interview with Gulf Intelligence released on Wednesday.

“I don’t think the (refining) business is sustainable at these rates (refining margins).”

However, Chinese oil demand is likely to remain solid through the fourth quarter and into 2021 as its economy grows while the rest of the world is in negative territory, he added.

Among the uncertainties facing the oil market are rising Libyan output on the supply side and a second wave of global COVID-19 infections, especially in Europe, on the demand side, Al-Buainain said.

Complicating efforts by other OPEC members and allies to curb output, Libyan production is expected to rebound to 1 million bpd in the coming weeks.

Oil prices, meanwhile, fell over 4 percent on Wednesday as surging coronavirus infections in the US and Europe are leading to renewed lockdowns, fanning fears that the unsteady economic recovery will deteriorate.

“Crude oil is under pressure from the increase in COVID-19 cases, especially in Europe,” said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

Brent futures fell $1.91, or 4.6 percent, to $39.29 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate crude fell $2.05, or 5.2 percent, to $37.52.

Earlier in the day Brent traded to its lowest since Oct. 2 and WTI its lowest since Oct. 5.

Futures pared losses somewhat after the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said a bigger-than-expected 4.3 million barrels of crude oil was put into storage last week, but slightly less than industry data late Tuesday which showed a 4.6 million-barrel build.

However, crude production surged to its highest since July at 11.1 million barrels per day in a record weekly build of 1.2 million bpd, the data showed.

Gasoline demand has also been weak overall, down 10 percent from the four-week average a year ago. US consumption is recovering slowly, especially as millions of people restrict leisure travel with cases surging nationwide.