What mango season reveals about the reality of hustling

Hustlers, more than the affluent, are under the mercy of nature, with its seasons and cycles. It’s as if nature conspires with human beings to make the life of hustlers hard. 

Kenya has two seasons: rainy and dry. The temperatures in the two seasons are not significantly different given we’re on the equator. Contrast that with temperate regions further north or south. The winters are cold and dark, and the summers hot and long, with the sun often setting at 9pm or never setting in the far north or south.

These seasons have a bearing on a hustler’s life. When it comes to Kenyan seasons, each has its share of misery for the hustler. The dry season leads to a shortage of food and other necessities, which leads to high prices and hustlers suffer as consumers. If they’re in the supply chain, middlemen take the biggest cut.

During the rainy season, there is a glut in the supply of food, which leads to low prices. Hustlers gain as consumers, but lose out as traders. The hustler’s lack of control in the supply chain increases his suffering. 

The fruit business is one of the most visible illustrations of how hustlers suffer. Drive along the Nairobi-Karatina road, for instance, and you’ll marvel at stalls full of mangoes and other fruits in season. They’re being sold very cheaply. Later in the year when these fruits are out of season, prices will go up. The same applies to other perishables like potatoes, milk and tomatoes. 

The continued suffering of hustlers because of seasons is someone’s gain. Too much predictability is not good for speculators, from currency traders to fresh-food middlemen.

Creating certainty

Over the years, we’ve tried to reduce this uncertainty by preserving food through drying, salting and using preservatives like honey. A good transport network would also match supply to demand and reduce waste. 

Other bold attempts to reduce hustlers’ economic suffering include guaranteed minimum return (GMR), where farmers were assured of a certain minimum price every season. That’s common in developed countries to ensure food security and national pride. 

The other solution is the use of derivatives like futures and options. We’ve been talking about such hedging instruments for the last two decades; it’s time to act.

We can even be parsimonious and just make information about markets and prices available. That might sound simple in the age of the Internet, but information is rarely available in the format we want and when we want it. 

Creating certainty in a sea of uncertainty has characterised civilisation. We’ve not been very good at this though. Our latest approaches, like controlling prices, will have unintended consequences like shortages. The market with plenty of information is often a better route to certainty. 

Next time you eat that succulent mango, spare a thought for the hustlers growing it, transporting it or even selling it. And the uncertainty that characterises their life.

Hustling