Middlemen are making a killing as fears of coronavirus grip traders at Nakuru Town’s Wakulima Market.
And as suppliers of essential goods keep away to avoid contracting the deadly disease, the market is facing an acute shortage of some essential goods.
Some of the scarce produce include sweet potatoes which is mostly sourced from Homa Bay, Kisumu, Busia and Bungoma counties.
“I received my last consignment of sweet potatoes on Monday and the second batch was brought into the market by middlemen who have hiked the price of a 90kg bag from Sh10,000 to Sh13,000,” said Ms Angela Akinyi a trader at the market.
Ms Akinyi said that even with high prices, they were still paying Sh40 per bag to the county government as tax.
“This is the right time for the county government to reduce the taxes as small scale traders are at the mercy of the middlemen,” she added.
There was a scarcity of potatoes as supply from Mau Narok, Dundori and Molo reduced drastically.
A tin of 20kg which was selling at Sh400 before the country was put on high alert now retails between Sh500 and Sh600.
“Our suppliers from Mau Narok are no longer bringing the produce since the government announced the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” said Ms Hellen Wambui.
She said that the tax per 50kg bag of potatoes has remained constant at Sh50. A 64-kilogram box of tomatoes at the farm is currently sold between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000.
However, the moment the produce hits the market, the middlemen sell to retailers at between Sh12,000 and Sh13,000 per box.
Ms Naomi Wanja, a farmer in Subukia, said she no longer spends money transporting her produce to Wakulima Market in Nakuru town a distance of 50km.
“Since the government announced measures to tame the spread of coronavirus, I have stopped transporting my tomatoes to Nakuru Wakulima Market, I now sell at the farm at Sh7,000 per 64kg box,” said Ms Wanja.
A retailer at the market said that a 2kg tin, which was selling at Sh150 prior to coronavirus fears, has doubled to Sh300.
“Some customers have complained of high prices but we have no choice but to transfer the cost to them. Those willing to buy a piece pay between Sh15 and Sh20 depending on the size,” said Ms Doreen Kamau.
A broker at the market said that scarcity of tomatoes has been occasioned by farmers not transporting their produce to Nakuru Wakulima Market, forcing brokers to cash in on the coronavirus fears to exploit consumers and small scale traders.
“We are getting good money as the price of a 64kg box could hit as high of Sh15,000 depending on the supply and demand,” said a broker.
Apart from brokers, other traders reaping from the fear of the Covid-19 are hardware traders who are now selling plastic containers which have been strategically placed at the entrance of the market for hand washing.
“We have sold more than 100 plastic tanks of 100 litres to traders at Nakuru Wakulima Market for the past three days,” said a trader.
“I have made requisition for additional supply as the demand is increasing by the day,” he added.