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Kenya Faces Onion Shortage as Tanzania Curbs Exports; Food Traders Turn to Ethiopia

Tanzania’s recent restrictions on onion exports to Kenya have sent shockwaves through the local market. As part of a broader global trend of nations curbing food exports due to supply concerns, these restrictions have caused vegetable prices, particularly onions, to skyrocket, reaching their highest levels in seven years at Nairobi’s primary food market, Wakulima.

The impact of this situation is exacerbated by the fact that Kenya has been heavily reliant on Tanzania for its onion supply, with approximately 50% of the country’s onions originating from its neighboring nation, as reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Several factors have contributed to this dependency on Tanzanian onions. The high cost of growing and transporting produce in Kenya, coupled with the worst drought experienced in decades, led to a significant decline in local onion production. Additionally, the affordability and extended shelf life of Tanzanian red onions made them a preferred choice among consumers.

To address the shortage caused by Tanzania’s export restrictions, some Kenyan food traders have turned to Ethiopia as an alternative source of onions. Ethiopia has become an attractive option, offering relief to Nairobi’s food market as it navigates the challenges posed by disrupted supply chains.

The imposition of onion export limits by Tanzania is part of a wider phenomenon of food restrictions adopted by countries concerned about supply shortages and surging global demand. According to Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, this trend of “contagion” in food restrictions is having a cascading effect, impacting not only Kenya but various regions worldwide.

From Africa to Europe and Asia, soaring food prices are becoming a common concern as more countries limit their food exports. Morocco, grappling with its own drought-related challenges, took similar measures earlier this year, halting exports of onions, potatoes, and tomatoes in February. These developments highlight the interconnectedness of global food markets and the urgency of addressing supply chain vulnerabilities to ensure food security for nations and their citizens.

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