Glimpses of Resilience and Ingenuity amidst the Covid19 Pandemic

Mama Mboga

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.





Lilian Akoth -38


Selling greens is one of the businesses that was affected immediately they announced coronavirus, people are fearful and our products coming from upcountry was interrupted immediately.

Getting the goods from upcountry is usually a delicate matter, there are too many people involved and we hear some county governments have closed down some markets, the effect is that there is less vegetables getting to us in Nairobi.



Rosemary Awour- 41

Cereal Seller


Business is not that bad to be honest, my products are very useful to people living in the slums.

I sell maize and beans, this is a good meal and cheap for families now that you have children at home and you have to provide 3 meals a day.

The only challenge is that I might run out of stock because our beans come from Tanzania, the border closing is not good for us.

The transporters have already warned us on the interruption on that route, the interference on that supply chain will be bad for my business and my customers.

I consider my business a public service as I show residents here how to live cheaply and on a budget.



Rita Ambuso- 45

Fish Monger


The silver lining here is that my competitors who selling Chinese fish are out of business, they all closed down.

People are worried that all our fish comes from China so my job now is to convince customers that this fish comes straight from Lake Victoria and it is not one of those packed fish in boxes.

Despite this, business is not as vibrant as it should have been, people now know and can differentiate between fish from China and ours from the Lake but they don’t have money to spend as they usually do.

This would be a good time for government to help local businesses and take care of its citizens, but you know they don’t know how to do that.  They only take care of themselves.



Elizabeth Wateri- 37

MPESA attendant


On a normal working day, we service 10 to 15 customers in a day transacting substantial amounts, mostly business people in the market.

At the moment, we have reduced to 7 so I too have had to scale down business.

So, when government suspends school and give instructions they should be aware of its consequences, my two children are at home, feeding them three meals a day is not an easy thing.

Bundles costs money if at all they are to try and study, no one in government has given us a proper plan on how our children can continue with proper education. They keep making announcements that affect us without giving a thought.




Anthony Kinuthia- 45



If people are struggling to buy food can you imagine anyone buying clothes?

As you can see the general trend in the market is that people are reducing spending or they don’t have money to buy things. So, I am stuck with my Mitumba stock.

Business was good, we could make 5,000 in a good day this week I can’t even tell you I have 1,000 shillings from selling clothes.

This shutdown should be something for middle-class and the rich, government should shut down those areas, here we are struggling to feed ourselves and we have to do it every day.




Josephat Mongela – 45

Posho Mill attendant


Customers don’t spend as much as they used to if I were to compare it to during holidays where children will be at home.

We are used to doing two bags of maize flour in a day the whole of this week we are doing half a bag every day. So, people have reduced their normal intake of Ugali .

We hope this thing goes quietly as we can’t manage a complete shutdown. Sometimes I do credit to my usual customers, I am already doing 10 debts this week, highest than any other time I have ever done.