Month long charcoal ban leaves a bitter taste on butcheries and nyama choma joints as jobs go up in smoke

Most butcheries and eateries now charge Sh800 ($8) for a kilo of roast meat, up from Sh650 ($6) a month ago.

The rather cheerful entrepreneur who runs a successful barbecue business and owns a popular meat joint along Kiambu Road, ‘Mbukaki Bar and Restaurant’ is today lost in thoughts and worried that he may no longer be able to keep his meat prices down and within reach of many Kenyans as the month-long ban on charcoal continues to bite.

“The charcoal ban has had a big impact on our businesses, the prices of charcoal have gone up and more than quadruple, a sack of charcoal which we used to buy at Sh1400 we are now buying for Sh5000”  he told Business Insider SSA by Phone.

Nyama choma (Roast Meat) is one of the most popular meat delicacies in Kenya and the multi-billion shilling industry depends on Charcoal as fuel to roast the meat.

However, business has not been good and the month-long ban on charcoal burning has left a bitter taste on several meat joints in Nairobi and its satellite towns such as Kitengela.

“My monthly expenses have gone up by about 15% and they are still rising just because of the ban.”

In late February, Kenya imposed a three month logging ban to try and save the country’s sharply depleting forest cover in the wake of a severe drought sweeping across the country as water levels in major rivers continued to drop at alarming levels.

As a result, charcoal, main form of fuel used in meat joints disappeared, shooting prices of meat by up to 23 per cent price and triggering massive staff lay-offs.

For now Tony’s sumptuous Nyama Choma which his customers swear by is still the same price but it won’t be for long.

“I have tried to hold mine down for a little while but it seems like I won’t be able to hold it for much longer”

Most butcheries and eateries now charge Sh800 ($8) for a kilo of roast meat, up from Sh650 ($6) a month ago and as a result the number of Kenyans trickling in to meat joints continues to dwindle by the day.

Kitengela, Kiserian and Ongata towns in Kajiado County, where most roast meat joints are now struggling to stay open, have been hit particularly hard.

“A few people have tried to diversify to other fuels but the prices are also prohibitive, the only other alternative would be gas but that would be super expensive there is no commercial barbecue done with gas, you can do small cookings with it but not commercial so we are stuck with Charcoal”

Kitengela’s Arusha Meat Den said consumption of meat has more than halved with the scarcity of charcoal and subsequent increase in the price of nyama choma.

“We used to sell 15 goats a day but now we can hardly do three."

“It is hard for us to buy the charcoal at those high prices without passing the extra cost to consumers,” said business manager Charles Mutuku.

Away from smoky Nyama choma joints with rickety chairs, herders are also feeling the pinch.

The roast meat business provides a ready market for herders but with the ban in place their live hoods now hang in the balance.

As days goes by Tony whose phone never stops ringing as meat orders trickles in is worried that if nothing is done his phone may soon fall silent and with it his busy kitchen and bar may also follow suit.

The same fear is felt by millions of other meat joints across the country and soon thousands of jobs may also go up in smoke.

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