As it appeared in the Daily Nation on July 11th, 2017
There is something fascinating about going to the market. I like the idea that there is a variety of products. I especially like to buy fresh vegetables and fruits in a market set-up. I often visit the fruits and vegetables market in the Woodley area and Chambers Road in Ngara. I also make purchases from the roadside markets on the Naivasha- Nairobi and Nyeri – Nairobi road. Recently, I stopped at the Gakindu market in Nyeri to witness barter trade. Occasionally, I visit the city market though I dread the stench. I wonder if going to Marigiti and Gikomba markets is still an adventure as it was in the 90’s. Most importantly, I wonder if the Nairobi county government has done enough to develop its markets. What about the other counties?
I believe we have different kinds of markets across the country. These markets are a source of livelihood for thousands if not millions of Kenyans. The markets support a wide range of businesses from farmers to importers, to brokers, to transporters, to the vendors and to other service providers. For many, this is their only source of income. Kenyatta market for instance is home to hundreds of enterprising hairdressers each trying to outsmart the other. The market is also known to have great meat eateries and is one of the few markets where one can find parking. Markets as a source of income for the county governments need more attention.
Every time I visit the Woodley fruits and vegetables market or the city market, I get concerned about the filth characteristic of these markets. For the last one year, I have been trying to interest our local leadership to ensure garbage is well managed at the Woodley market to no avail. The rainy season is very challenging for the vendors and customers as well. I suppose large amounts of produce goes into waste. I often wonder if public health officials inspect these food markets and if cleanliness and safety are top priorities. Most remain unkempt, have low hygiene standards and there is limited parking for transporters, vendors and customers.
In most towns including our capital city, the streets turn into markets during evening hours. We are all aware that in Nairobi, the street vendors aka hawkers are in constant battles with the county government. Maybe, those selling second-hand clothes and shoes on the streets are trying to save the Nairobian the trouble of going to the Gikomba market. In many countries, we have licensed organized street vendors who run booming businesses in cities. I recall once visiting a street vendors market in Amsterdam. During the weekend, some streets close down allowing vendors to sell their wares. Would such an arrangement work in our capital city and in other towns?
It is evident that our regular retail stores provide us with inadequate fruits and vegetables. In addition, , the products in most supermarkets are overpriced and not always as fresh. Fortunately, special retailers focusing on fruits and vegetables such as Zucchini are offering better quality, more variety and better prices compared to regular retail stores. Despite this, there is still need for most Kenyans to visit the traditional local food markets. In addition, we are yet to fully develop the thrift store concept for second hand items. Our county governments who are in charge of markets should therefore modernize our local markets and make them fitting for vendors and more accessible to customers. In so doing, they must ensure that the thousands of Kenyans who earn a living as vendors are not disrupted but they are enabled to do business.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy