Many businesses have emerged in the tourist town of Malindi, but fruit vending seems to be more deeply rooted.
This is as a result of employment rates in Kenya decreasing rapidly and people opting to explore their capabilities and fend for themselves in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Fruit vending is just one among many other trades, most of which are dependent on tourism, a sector that has taken a serious beating from the pandemic since March last year. Other businesses include carving of artifacts/curios, tour operations, and hotel keeping.
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 that led to the closure of most hotels a fruit glut is being experienced in the tourist resort town, forcing players in the fruit business to start engaging in vending just to make ends meet in their families.
Christopher Muchoki, the man in charge of distribution and movement of pineapples and watermelons at Malindi’s Old Market, also known as Kwa Jiwa market, says despite the fact that the number of international tourists has gone down due to the pandemic, fruit sellers are still making good sales.
“Pineapple season in this region begins from November to May while watermelons are available throughout the year,” he says adding, “We source our fruits from farms in Magarini and resell them at wholesale or retail prices.”
He says despite the pandemic, fruits are moving at a high rate, thus incidents of fruits rotting at the market are a rarity. Most of the pineapples and watermelons, he says are sold locally to small fruits vendors and restaurants.
Muchoki however remembers with nostalgia when Covid-19 struck, forcing hotels to close down. He said previously, fruits were moving like hot cakes, and the prices were impressive. Now, he lamented, they sell at throwaway prices, just to avoid incurring losses as fruits are highly perishable.
“Our main challenge is that we lost our market; the hotels as international tourists stopped coming to our country due to lockdowns and travel restrictions in their countries to contain the virus,” he says.
He urged the government and individuals to consider establishing a fruit processing factory in Malindi so that farmers and traders can access a ready market for their fruits and earn huge profits.
He also called on the County Government of Kilifi, through the Malindi Municipal Board, to allocate more space to fruit sellers at the Kwa Jiwa market and other markets within the town.
“When the markets were built, the designers did not take fruit sellers into account. Now we have to use available spaces outside the markets to sell our fruits and many times we have found ourselves at war with the authorities, who claim we are not trading in designated places,” he laments.
However, it is not all gloomy for Geoffrey Osero. Though he is in the fruit selling business, the pandemic seems not to have disadvantaged his trade as he does not depend on international tourists.
Osero, who operates a fruit stand at the Lamu road/Mtangani road junction behind Absa Bank in Malindi town, says he has been vending fruits for the last nine years and that although he started small, his business has been growing day by day.
“I started this business after I moved to Malindi back in 2012 while looking for a way to feed and cater for my family’s needs,” he says, adding, “I used my small savings as my starting capital to set up this fruit stand, which was small them but has now grown bigger.”
Geoffrey says he sources most of his fruits from the Kwa Jiwa market at wholesale prices and resells them at a profit.
The only challenge, he adds, is refusal by the county government to allow them to build permanent stalls along the road to expand their businesses claiming doing so would cause congestion on the roads.
Other challenges are minor issues like during heavy rains and hikes in fruit prices when there is scarcity.
He advises the youth to venture into the business instead of staying idle and whining about unemployment.
by Rita Kariuki/Emmanuel Masha