Corona virus pandemic has disrupted the normal activities of Kenyans from every sector with those from low income areas feeling the brunt of this pandemic.
Its disruption on the farm to fork food supply chain, especially on small scale traders across the chain, cannot also be overlooked.
“Business is moving very slowly right now; before the pandemic I would restock my stall everyday but now I only restock twice a week as people have no money to buy.” Says 48 years old Victoria Wanjiku, a trader from Kosovo, Mathare.
With the slow movement of stock, Wanjiku says she has now resorted to opening her stall earlier than usual so that she can sell out her daily stock before curfew time kicks in.
“Before I would open my stall at around 12 noon, but nowadays I’m usually open as early as 9 am so that customers can buy little by little as the day progresses by and I can at least sell out a bit of the stock before curfew time kicks in.” She says.
In Korogocho, 37yr old Evalyne Achieng shares the same sentiments of how the pandemic has affected her business and income.
“Normally on a good day, I would make up Ksh 4000, but now with the effects of the pandemic – the curfew and the reduction and lose in income of many residents – I can barely make half of what I used to earn.” She says.
She now relies on her small savings from her ‘chama’ as a safety net to help pay for expenses like food and boost her business.
“As a woman I need to be able to provide sanitary towels for me and my daughter every month. I also need to daily put food on the table especially now that children are at home, something that has been quite hard off late” Says the mother of two.
Early May, the government gave out a directive that matatu operators carry only half their capacity. This move geared towards enabling social distancing within the public transport system resulted in a marginal rise in bus fares as matatu operators tried to make up for the empty seats. This greatly affected the movement of people and goods.
“I could not go to the market on the initial days of the pandemic because the fare to town was very expensive.” Says Victoria Wanjiku, who used to buy her goods at the Marikiti Market in town.
This disruption on the movement of people and goods greatly affected the food supply chain as it created a gap for middlemen and brokers to enter the chain at sections they never existed before.
“ With the increase in matatu fares, I and other Mama Mboga’s in the area, were forced to buy our wares from another woman who used to go to the market each day and brings the goods to us in bulk using a ‘’mkokoteni.” She adds.
With the effects of this pandemic has also brought to the forefront the ingenuity and resilient spirit of our communities in the face of adversity.
“I installed this hand washing station for my customers to wash their hands before touching the vegetables. “ Says Josephine Were who sells vegetables at Baba Dogo.
To deal with the government’s directive barring public gatherings and requiring those in public to stand one meter apart, Josephine says she now works by orders so as to avoid crowding at her stall.
“Nowadays customers give me their orders and come back later to pick their vegetables and when the curfew time kicks in I deliver to them at their doorsteps. “ She says.
Although the imposed curfew has robbed many local businesses of time as they now close shops earlier than usual, Josephine, a mother of two, says that this is a lose she can stomach as the curfew has created more time for her and her family to interact.
“Before I used to work till 9pm, but nowadays I close shop by 6:30pm. This has at least given me some more time with my family.” Says the 24yr old.
Although many businesses have taken a hit during this period, Josephine says that to her it’s the contrary as business has been booming and her income has increased.
“Due to the high cost of living right now, I have noticed that most of the people consume a lot of vegetables. Before Covid, I used to make a profit of about Ksh 250 but now my profit margin has risen to about Ksh 350 – Ksh 500 a day.” She says.
This she attributes to the fact that the pandemic has resulted to many people losing their sources of income hence cannot be able to afford a variety of foods right now and vegetable are their only cheapest option.
Same sentiments are shared by two women from Kibera slums Magret Baraka 36 years and Gladys Atieno 42 years. Magret says that this period she has not be selling much as at times customers want to lend things instead of buying, because even them they don’t have money, this makes it so hard for her to get income to support her family. Her husband who was a casual laborer at Jua Kali sector lost his job, this has left her to be the sole provider of the family, she says she has never had tough times like this ones. She has not paid the landlord who is on her neck daily. With two children who are now in the house, providing 3 meals a day has been hard to her. She is even experiencing conflicts with her husband on the provision of food in the house.
For Gladys it not different either ,she has been a vegetable vendor for close to 15 years now, the business has helped her feed her children and even educating them. Her first born daughter who is at Egerton University has been educated with the sweat of her mother but since the first report of Corona in the country Gladys says business has gone down and they barely earn enough. With the imposed curfew by the government, Gladys cannot even meet half of her expenses.
‘’Business has been bad, no jobs no money ,sometimes I wish all this could never have happened, we are going through a tough life’’ says Gladys.
As the country gears towards fully opening up and all the travel and movement restrictions being fully lifted, will it be a breath of fresh air for the urban food supply chain or will these disruptions be the new normal within the food supply chain.