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Fruits and groceries: Mama Mboga knows her stock will sell

By Peter Theuri | May 8th 2021
A grocery business in Nairobi West on Sunday, April 05 2020. The ongoing countrywide COVID-19 curfew has rendered scores jobless with most businesses shutting down owing to hard economic times. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Mama Mboga may not be making hundreds of thousands every day, but she is sure to make business every day.

In the mornings, as people jog to their places of work, she is sorting out fruits and vegetables in Nairobi’s Wakulima market. She has to be up early, sometimes as early as 3 am, if she has to catch the best farm produce reaching Nairobi in those ungodly hours.

By the time people are preparing lunch, she has already brought with her the onions, garlic, capsicum, tomatoes, kales and potatoes that they may need, all fresh from the farm, probably having left the most distant counties twelve hours earlier.

And in the evenings as the busy office workers strut back home, she is sure they will stop by and make some purchases. Most of those products they purchase will not last that night so they will be back the following morning.

Amid the pandemic, a lot of businesses have taken a hit. But Mama Mboga has remained resilient because people have to eat.

She might not make lists of the most revered people in the town, but that is where she belongs. Many think of her as just another person who does the lowly, odd job on the roadside. But so many families will sleep hungry if all Mama Mbogas gathered their wares and, without announcing it, left town. Collectively, they are a force to reckon with, the unit that feeds the city without really appearing to be doing it.

“A business in the food industry,” said Prof XN Iraki recently, “is always going to be a good business opportunity because people have to eat.”

If you watch any groceries stand, especially in high density areas, evenings are always a flurry of activity with someone spending Sh10, another Sh20 and another maybe even less on small units of vegetables they might need for the day.

Caroline Muthoni, a household goods’ merchant in Kasarani, is of the opinion that if she was to start afresh today, she would go for a groceries shop.

“People will never get tired of buying from the grocery shops. They cannot avoid it. Food is a basic need, and customers will always avail themselves come rain come shine,” she says.

When she chops her cabbages and stuffs them into polythene bags, Mama Mboga knows someone will buy. If anything, there will not be enough for everyone. In a city where almost no one is farming, there are no kitchen gardens where people can go to and get their Sukuma wiki.

She is at the forefront of a kadogo economy, where for only Sh20 you can have stew for your ugali.

And when you stop at her place, you are sure to come away with more than just one product. It is cheap; it is affordable.

Like the cobbler who will always somewhat have business, or the tailor who is always hunched over his sewing machine with an ever growing pile of clothes behind them, it is hard for Mama Mboga to go without business.

The local grocery store is also aware of the fact that most of what they sell is going to be used up by the next daybreak. Most of the groceries are highly perishable.

In the era of Mpesa, sending of money is made easier, with most of the goods bought by the average customer less than Sh100. The customer incurs no fee sending these amounts.

The transactions, gone cashless, mean less contamination of the products that one is buying.  

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