Seeking alternatives to meat a giant dilemma for many Kenyans

Neema Livestock and Slaughtering Investments Limited stall at the Kenya Meat Expo 2023

The Neema Livestock and Slaughtering Investments Limited stall at the Kenya Meat Expo 2023 at the Kenya International Convention Centre in Nairobi on May 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Kennedy Amungo | Nation Media Group

That Kenyans have an appetite for meat is not news. But could the high cost of living and health concerns be pushing more people to alternatives?

A 2019 Kenya Market Trust survey shows the average Kenyan consumes about 15 kilos of meat a year. Beef is the most popular meat in Kenya due to its relative affordability and availability.

Beef is alternated with other meats like chicken, goat, mutton, fish and pork, which are slightly more expensive.

In June 2021, a kilo of beef went for Sh472.74, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). It is now Sh551.30.

Ms Susan Waithera, a health worker and resident of Nakuru, says she will soon reduce her weekly meat consumption.

“Honestly, beef is not important. I can do without it,” Ms Waithera said.

Nairobi and Kiambu residents pay Sh100 more for a kilo of beef than those of Nakuru, Mombasa and Kisumu, who get it for Sh500.

A kilo of meat has 260g of protein and can feed four people a meal, while a kilo of nyayo beans has 210g protein and can feed the same number of people for two meals.

According to the KNBS, the price of a kilo of beans has increased by Sh60 since June 2021, but is still below Sh200.

Ms Betty Okere, a nutritionist and dietician, says it is important to have a healthy mix of pulses and meat, unless health issues prevent that.

She says buying and cooking just enough food could help Kenyans avoid wastage and save money.

“Meat is important as it is a rich source of vitamin B, especially B12, and helps neurodevelopment. Some people do not want red meat because of its association with inflammation and chronic diseases,” she said.

“Other people find plant proteins easy to digest. They are also a source of carbohydrate and do not contain saturated fats associated with animal protein.”

Ms Julie Mailu, a resident of Nairobi, says she prefers pulses like beans, mung beans and peas instead of meat for protein.

“My choice was largely influenced by the health benefits of grains. It is a plus that they happen to be cheaper than meat,” she said.

But for some like Maurice Ryan, the task is difficult.

The father of one and head of site management and maintenance at Simon Newberry School in Kisumu, says he buys a kilo of beef for Sh500.

“During weekends, you have to eat meat in order to drink alcohol comfortably. That is the norm. For me, to stop eating meat must be because of health reasons,” he said.

“It also means I have to stop drinking. Children like meat and it is difficult to deny them. If the price shoots up, it means eating meat only three times a week. There is also the option of eating more fish than beef because it is cheaper here.”

Mr Andrew Maru from Mtwapa, Kilifi County, shares Mr Ryan’s sentiments and says he is not sure he can stop eating meat.

He adds that the high prices may reduce the frequency.

“I consume meat four to five times a week. I try to replace it with alternative proteins. I love goat meat,” he said.

Data from Report Linker shows that Kenyan meat consumption is projected to reach 848,500 tonnes by 2026, up from 812,000 in 2021.

This represents an average year-on-year growth of 0.7 per cent since 2017.

In 2021, Kenya ranked 44th, just behind Hungary, with 812,000 tonnes. The US, Brazil and Russia were second, third and fourth respectively.

In a presentation at the launch of the #EatLessMeat campaign, World Animal Protection Farming Campaigns Manager – Dr Victor Yamo – said the biggest climate change and environmental impact of factory farming is producing crops for animal feed.

“Eating less meat will save a few quid and the environment,” he said.

The report shows that using land to grow crops to feed animals that become food is inefficient and destructive.

For every 100 calories of crops fed to animals, humans only get 17 to 30.

Meat and dairy provide 18 per cent of total calories and 37 per cent of protein for humans, but use 83 per cent of agricultural land.

The organisation recommends that it would be better to grow crops for a plant-based diet for direct human consumption.

“If people reduced the amount of meat in their diets by 50 per cent, we could prevent the release of 210 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road,” said Dr Yamo.

He added that more than 50 billion farm animals are factory-farmed every year.