Traders in Nakuru County have proposed a legislation that will bar supermarkets from selling fresh farm produce.
Led by Mr Hezron Muiri, the grocers operating from the Wakulima market have submitted a written petition to the Clerk of the County Assembly Joseph Malinda, that if adopted will criminalise stocking of vegetables, dairy products and fruits on supermarket shelves.
The petition further seeks to compel the devolved unit to conduct routine maintenance and repairs on all public markets within its jurisdiction, as dilapidated infrastructure and poor hygienic conditions have been blamed for reduced customer numbers in the facilities.
Nakuru’s chief officer in charge of Trade and Tourism, Ms Edith Kimani, said though weighty issues had been raised in the petition, political interference was hampering the devolved unit’s efforts to revamp public markets and make them compete favourably with supermarket chains.
“We need neater markets with good drainage systems and properly planned stalls to attract customers who would otherwise have gone to supermarkets. Traders should embrace change and allow us to plan these markets in a proper and modern way. The county is keen to promote fair trade practices for both traders and major supermarket chains,” said the chief officer.
However, in a quick rejoinder, major supermarket chains in the town have read mischief in the proposed legislation and opposed the petition.
Branch manager at the Botswana owned Choppies Supermarket Peter Mukuri said such legislation would expose farmers to exploitation by unscrupulous brokers and middlemen.
“This petition will be counterproductive to farmers. Most of these chains buy directly and pay in cash all deliveries made by local farmers. We are empowering the Kenyan farmer and offer competitive prices that are acceptable at market rates. We do not undercut anyone,” said Mr Mukuri.
Section 15 of the County Government Act empowers any Kenyan to petition a county assembly to consider any matter within its authority, including enacting, amending or repealing any of its legislations.
“I believe the proposed legislation will cushion ordinary traders at Wakulima market and other satellite trading centres within the County from unfair competition. Most of these chains have the capacity to import cheap fruits, vegetables and dairy products at the expense of our farmers,” said Muiri.
His sentiments were echoed by Wakulima Farmers Society Organising Secretary Abubakar Omondi and Welfare Coordinator Joseph Kibe Ng’ang’a. According to Mr Omondi, major supermarket chains took advantage of lack of guidelines to import farm produce which was available locally, which they later sold at cheaper prices.
“Traders and local farmers cannot compete with some of the multinational suppliers contracted to supply eggs, oranges, passion fruits and vegetables to supermarkets. The prices they offer are ridiculously low and a slap on the face of the local trader and farmer,” noted Omondi.
Mr Ng’ang’a, on his part, said dilapidated infrastructure and insecurity within County government owned market facilities was giving supermarkets undue edge over informal farm produce traders.
“Blocked sewers, clogged drainages and congestion have handed these supermarkets a very easy platform to drive us out of business,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.
A vegetable vendor at Wakulima market Ms Lucy Wanja said they were incurring huge losses after supermarkets further ventured into selling potatoes and green grams.
For Ms Jane Mwangi, dilapidated infrastructure at public market facilities leading to clogged toilets and erratic water supply had contributed to an exodus of potential customers to supermarkets.