A Kenyan COVID-19 notebook: The ‘mama mbogas’ and the path to recovery

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Researcher Niti Bhan sees this “indigenous economy” as the key to Kenya’s economic recovery. She points to the daily flow of fresh vegetables into Nairobi, controlled by local traders, as an example of its adaptability.

The value chain stretches from the rural farms to the mama mbogas in Kibera, with wholesalers the critical cog, able to absorb the additional costs of doing business in COVID times – from transport delays to the extra bribes paid to traffic cops.

Power to the mama mbogas

Women traders – and it’s overwhelmingly women – in Nairobi’s Marikiti wholesale market have shrunk their businesses and are absorbing a roughly 65 percent cut to their pre-COVID cash flow, said Bhan.

“Rather than frittering away working capital, they’re holding on to cash and waiting for [customer] purchasing power to look up, and that’s when they’ll invest again,” she told TNH. “They’re stretched to the limit, but nobody is talking about pivoting to [alternative jobs].”

She believes that with an investment plan, the informal sector can rebuild far faster than mainstream bricks-and-mortar businesses, dependent as those are on global financial health.

But the government has taken a more modest approach. It introduced a package of tax cuts and credit guarantees in March to ease the financial impact of the lockdown, primarily aimed at the smaller, formal side of the economy.

Period6 Aug 2020

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Keywords

  • recovery
  • resilience
  • informal economy
  • food security
  • farm to fork
  • kenya
  • women
  • informal trade