Street foods served by vendors and hawkers are a popular snack cum meal in most developing countries due to the industry’s widespread benefits.
Benefits for vendors include low startup costs, flexible schedules and a fast return on investment, while benefits for consumers include affordability, fast service and ease of accessibility, illustrating their symbiotic relationship.
Like many other towns of the country and the whole world, the streets of Kisii are littered with a variety of street foods including cooked bananas, rice, sausages, boiled eggs and groundnuts.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines street food as “ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and sold by vendors especially in streets and other similar public places.”
An estimated 2.5 billion people consume street foods everyday around the world. A spot check by Kenya News Agency I(KNA) found that the hawkers and consumers of street food in the County was rising owing as area population increased buoyed by the booming economy which has transformed the town into a 24/7 business hub.
Opening of branches by various universities in the town has also increased consumers of food like other business products.
The hawkers and consumers of street food get many benefits but also face challenges in the same measure, as KNA found out.
Douglas Momanyi who stays at a rental house at Ufanisi estate in the town is a boiled Egg Vendor at the town’s main bus terminal.
Before starting this business, he used to do construction work and also sell coffee at night.
The coffee business only made him sh150 per night and the masonry job was hard with little returns hence prompting him to find another alternative.
He was later influenced by the friends who hawked boiled eggs and started the business with a capital of sh280 that is one create of eggs.
He has now been there for three months and he makes a net profit of sh400 each day as one boiled egg goes for sh20.
“I am happy in this job it helps me pay my rent early unlike in the past and provide for my family who also sell roasted groundnuts at Kisii town, but if I find a more paying job I won’t hesitate to go for it,” he says.
Momanyi starts his work at 11am and closes at 12 mid-night although County council Askaris chase them away or they pay sh.500 to be released if caught.“I was at one point imprisoned for eight for hawking coffee,” Momanyi says.
Evelyn Moraa, 32, vends “githeri (mixed beans and maize) along with cooked bananas mostly to matatu operators and passersby on a daily basis from 6am to 4pm at the Kisii town bus stage.
She says a plate of githeri and cooked bananas ranges from sh20 to sh30 respectively.
During the interview she said her main reason to start the business was to enable her cater for her family needs and also raise her daughter’s school fees, since her husband financial capability was not able to sustain the family fully.
She started the business in partnership with two others after raising a capital of sh2, 000 but as time went by, the other two women quit, one for lacking marketing strategy and the other after the husband’s demise.
She says the business has helped her pay fees for her daughter and caters for her ageing parent’s needs.
The main challenges that she and her colleagues undergo is harassment from the County council askaris who demand that they relocate to an enclosed place which would be more costly to them.
She added that the county government charges sh30 in the marikiti market unlike in their current operation area
However, County Director of Public Health and Sanitation Dr. Richard Onkware notes that consumption of street foods poses health risks since it is sold while exposed to dust and other germs which can easily contaminate it.
The Director said that most of the street foods are sometimes exposed to dust from the blowing wind, splash of dirty water and flies.
This exposes consumers to bacteria, worms and pathogens from the ingested street food leading to diseases outbreak like cholera and stomach upsets.
“Although sale of street food is unlawful, we cannot ban it because it is the only means of livelihood for many people especially Kisii where land has become scarce,” says Omnkware.
He says public health requires all food handlers to be certified and issued with a medical certificate and all premises inspected to meet the hygienic standards.
Those who operate without meeting their regulations are charged in court in accordance with the Public Health Act (cap. 242) in the penal code which protects the public against consuming contaminated food substances.
The county public health office has created an environmental public health officers department which educates the public to have pit latrines in every home, with a covered roof proper floor and walls, and should be 30 feet from the water sources.
Through this he says the efforts have achieved 98 per cent latrine cover in Kisii County.
The public are encouraged to wash their hands after coming from the toilet and before eating with clean water and soap.
Also after washing utensils they should be aired outside in a dish rack to dry on the sun which helps to kill bacteria and pathogens which hardly happens in the case of street food hawking.
The director reveals the government’s plan to build modern stalls to help vendors find a clean place to do their respective business and protect consumers from contaminated food.
He appealed to consumers of street food to watch out where they eat from and keep off contaminated food.
By Richard Mongei and Jane Naitore