Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of people engaging in agribusiness, with the government having listed the sector as one of the essential service providers.
Many people are now selling agricultural produce from the boots of their vehicles along main highways and urban centres.
Some of these entrepreneurs were laid off from formal employment while others are trying to occupy themselves meaningfully during the Covid-19 period or to curb postharvest loss of fresh farm produce by selling at strategic locations.
Whatever the motivation, the businesses have contributed to availability and accessibility of affordable and fresh food due to the elimination of middle men.
Since Covid-19 has no timeline, its economic effects may see more people engage in agribusiness and other stop-gap ventures for survival, it is important we discuss what one should consider before getting into such a business. Here are points to consider:
The list of agricultural commodities is limitless and includes fresh crops such as cabbages, carrots, maize, potatoes, peas, tomatoes and all types of fruits.
Livestock products include eggs, chicken, honey and fish while forestry products include tree seedlings, especially now that it is a rainy season. Charcoal is another forest product.
While selecting the commodity to sell, ensure it is available locally and consumed in the region, particularly if you are in the rural areas.
If you are on a highway, your customers are motorists and their passengers and you should be familiar with their destinations so as to know their food prevalence.
Also consider the perishability of the commodity and how to maintain their freshness.
Common sites include along the highway, local town centres and farm gate. The site should enable you to meet the 5am to 9pm Covid-19 guideline and purchase adequate fresh produce on a daily basis, especially in the case of vegetables.
The site should also be free public space and should not hinder visibility of existing businesses. Place your merchandise on the roadside and not on the road itself.
Capital outlay and project term
Your reason for starting the business will dictate the project duration and capital investment.
If, for example, you were laid off from formal employment and you do not intend to search for a similar job after the pandemic is controlled, then you might make long-term considerations knowing that RSV is not a legal activity but can be a springboard to a permanent business in a legal place.
If you are only occupying yourself during the Covid-19 period, then business is not advisable.
The current vending strategies include use of boots of personal vehicles and spreading of commodities on the ground. The strategy one chooses depends on available resources.
For example, if you own a vehicle, it is better to use the boot than to spread the commodities on the ground as this improves on mobility, hygiene and comfort as you can sit and shelter in the car as
you wait for customers. Make sure that you display some of the products at the vehicle side/top or other convenient place as a marketing strategy, especially if you are on the highway, as motorists stop only when they see what they want.
Decide on the suitable time of the day to carry out your business. Selling vegetables in the morning might not be as good as selling them just before lunch while tree seedlings and charcoal can be marketed throughout the day.
Most vendors take advantage of the rush hour from 5pm when people are going home to just before the curfew starts. This is a good idea as one can use the daytime period to source for the products.
It is also good for perishable products like vegetables that wilt when exposed to sunlight. Reduce competition by supplementing others. For instance, if others are selling onions and tomatoes, sell cabbage or kales.
Improve on food safety through hygienic handling of goods such as use of a transparent bucket to display fish instead of bare-hand handling.
Also have clean and approved packaging materials in another bucket that you can use to wrap the selected commodity.
Carry all the waste with you every day and leave the site as clean as you found it. Waste can be converted to animal feeds or compost that can be sold or used to improve farm production.
Covid-19 control strategy
Wear and encourage all customers to wear masks, provide water for washing hands or a sanitiser.
Have takeaway packages of convenient sizes so that customers take the shortest time possible at your site and also to limit touching of the products by customers.
Observe the curfew period; source products from reliable sources to keep off stolen goods; go home in good time to avoid robbers; get a pouch in which to keep your cash during business hours and M-Pesa or bank your proceeds especially if you are going home late in the evening; place your commodities on the side of the road that most customers are using to minimise crisscrossing the road and hence accidents.
Likewise, avoid sharp bends to enable safe road crossing.
Even before Covid-19, RSV was a challenge to most county governments. A good example is the busy market along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway at the Nakuru-Kiambu-counties junction that exists alongside an underutilised modern market.
Further, some commodities like milk should not be hawked due to the stringent pasteurisation legal requirement; challenges with adulteration; and its high perishable nature.
However, RSV is expanding faster than urban informal economy and there is need for policy makers to re-strategise on this important part of the economy.
Dr Mwirigi is an agricultural specialist. [email protected]
Car boot sellers redefine hawking
- Many people have become car boot sellers, vending produce along main highways and urban centres.
- Some of these entrepreneurs were laid off from formal employment while others are trying to occupy themselves meaningfully during the Covid-19 period or to curb post-harvest loss of fresh farm produce by selling at strategic locations.
- Whatever the motivation, the businesses have contributed to availability and accessibility of affordable and fresh food due to the elimination of middle men, who commonly raise the prices of farm products unnecessarily.