What you need to know:
- A lot of produce sold at the facility run by Nairobi City County comes from Uganda and Tanzania
- Traders say the Tanzanian and Ugandan suppliers are getting a foothold on the market because of fair prices as most of the produce comes from commercial farms
Vibrant. That is how one can describe Wakulima Market, Nairobi, which literally feeds over four million people.
Hotels, schools, food manufacturing companies, mama mbogas and families all get their supplies from the market.
It is hard to estimate the amount of produce that includes fruits and vegetables sold at Wakulima.
But according to Market Master Sylvester Ndung’u, over 40 trucks bring in about 240 tonnes of fresh produce every day. Business starts at 4am.
The buyers normally move from one trader to another searching for the best produce and prices.
To an ordinary person, Wakulima, which is home to about 3,000 traders, offers a ready and perfect market for Kenya’s farmers.
However, that is far from the truth. There is a little secret only known to traders at the market, which should worry every stakeholder in the agriculture industry.
A lot of produce sold at the facility run by Nairobi City County comes from Uganda and Tanzania.
“A huge percentage of produce sold here is from Tanzania and Uganda and the tonnage has been increasing over the years,” says Ndung’u.
A quick glance at the facility confirms this little known fact as parked on the periphery of market are trucks with Tanzanian registration numbers.
“Out of the 40 lorries that bring in produce here each day, about 10 are from Tanzania. Seven bring in green maize, three tomatoes and one red onions,” explains Ndung’u.
“From Uganda, six lorries bring in paw paws and four pineapples, among other fruits.”
The traders also get about three lorries of pineapples from Thika each day.
Traders say the Tanzanian and Ugandan suppliers are getting a foothold on the market because of fair prices as most of the produce comes from commercial farms.
Susan Nyambura, who has been trading in oranges for about 10 years, says she buys her stock from Mwanza, Tanzania.
She sometimes buys oranges from Yatta, Machakos County, which she says have a higher demand because of quality, but the prices are a little higher.
According to the trader who goes to Tanzania regularly in search of oranges, the country beats Kenya when it comes to farming because of the land acreage per person.
“We have subdivided our land so much that most of us cannot do commercial farming. This is not the case with Tanzania,” she told Seeds of Gold.
“Across the border, more farmers use irrigation; so they are in production throughout the year, which is not the case in Kenya where farmers depend on rain that has become erratic.”
A bag of Kenya oranges this week was going for an average of Sh4,000 while those from Tanzania were selling at Sh2,500. Green maize from Tanzania was being sold at Sh8 a piece and that from Kenya at Sh12. Pineapples from Uganda cost Sh30 a piece while those from Thika go for Sh50 a fruit.
Traders at Wakulima complain that save for potatoes, it is challenging to collect in bulk the other fresh produce from farmers across the country.
Each farmer produces little and there is poor coordination among them when it comes to marketing their produce. “If farmers formed associations as their counterparts in Uganda, where I get pineapples, it would be easier for us to get the produce and market it for them,” says Christopher Mwanzia, who sells fruits. It is not that Ugandans or Tanzanians are better farmers than Kenyans.
According to traders, farmers in Kenya compete against each other most of the time instead of pooling together to get better bargains.
“Nairobi is a large consumer economy but we cannot go from farmer to farmer asking them if their produce is ready. If they had cooperatives, the associations would contact us and we would buy from them,” says Kaguta Githaiga, the chairman of Wakulima Traders.
Poor state of roads in farming areas where most of the food is produced also prevents traders from accessing Kenyan farmers’ produce.
“Tarmacked roads only end at some market centres. To reach a farmer deep in the village is a challenge. You cannot compare this with Tanzanians who bring produce to the market,” says Githaiga.
Experts termed the flooding of Wakulima and other markets with produce from neighbouring countries worrying, but attributed the trend to the East African Community.
According to Prof Nancy Karanja of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Nairobi: “Even in the European Union, countries trade with each other. What Kenyans should be worried about is how they can fill in the gaps.”
She reckons that the current influx of food from Uganda and Tanzania can also be attributed to aridity of land in Kenya.
“Some of these foods go with seasons such that when it is a low season here, we shift to our neighbours and vice versa,” she explained.
“However, only 20 per cent of Kenya is high potential and it is a reality that we may never produce enough food for ourselves, but the government has taken a step in the right direction through the one-million acre irrigation project,” she adds.
To cover the shortfall, Karanja advises farmers to think of planting crops that are of high value and of export quality so that the little arable land available in the country will be of high economic value.
“If I was a farmer, I would not plant maize because it is the cheapest. I would go for plants like flowers because you cannot compare what a flower fetches to maize,” she says.
WHAT IS SELLING
This week, maize, carrots, oranges and pineapples were in huge demand at the market.
Also in demand were white Irish potatoes, sukuma wiki, tomatoes and cabbages, which traders say are constantly in demand because they are the most consumed foods in the capital.