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Traders' tills empty as schools remain closed

By Peter Theuri | September 8th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Reuben Maina (left), a lab technician at Enkinda Secondary School, sells educational revision materials to a parent at Nyamira Town. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

David Kamau has been selling cabbages to Kieni Constituency’s Gitegi Primary School in Nyeri for the last two years. In a week, Kamau delivers 90 heads of cabbages to the day school. 

But since March, he has had to forget this assured market and look elsewhere for interested buyers, haggling most of the time. Sometimes the deals he gets are just not worth his efforts.

On average, the school will buy one cabbage at Sh30. But Kamau says to even get someone who will buy the cabbage at Sh15 in the conventional market is hard.

“The good thing about selling to the school is that even when prices in the markets shift, the price we had agreed on in our contract remains stable,” he says. And knowing how the prices of vegetables fluctuate, he has a point.

To Kamau, a small-scale farmer, the assurance that the school would always buy from him 360 cabbages in a month to earn Sh10,800 was heartwarming.

He lives near the school thus transporting the produce is easy. But now that he has to look for market elsewhere, he has to figure out how to navigate the near-impassable roads in the area. In the rainy season, which is ongoing now, a lot of the crop is bound to rot in the farms, access to the markets almost impossible, and every farmer probably peddling the same product.

It is nearly seven months since President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the closure of all learning institutions. On March 15, two days after the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the country, students were sent home, weeks before the official end of the first term.

The second term came and went, and the third term should be starting. But with the pandemic’s ugly fangs still showing, school gates remain closed. And among the silently hurting Kenyans are those tasked with supplying learning material to the institutions.

Lawrence Kibaara, the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association, says that publishers and printers have lost up to 90 per cent of their revenue.

“Our main target is usually the schoolbook market. Publishers have had to almost permanently resort to digital publishing. But now people have invested a lot in it to ensure we churn out content digitally,” says Kibaara, who is also chairman of Mountain Top Publishers.

“Of course, such changes mean remodelling the structure of the company. It has come with its own pitfalls, and even though we are going digital to close the gaps and reach markets, circulation of money in the country is not as it has always been, so sales have to tank.

The losses notwithstanding, Kibaara says they are behind the ministry and would not ask for a hurried reopening to save their businesses.

“We will pick up when the pandemic is manageable. The priority now is to ensure the students are safe,” he says.

At Savanis Bookshop along Latema Road, shoppers are fewer than in any September since the store opened.

“We have lost 95 per cent of our sales,” says Pardeep Rehal, the manager. “We have gone all the way to zero.”

Except for a few students who are buying revision materials, there is no activity worth reporting for the bookshop. It is the first week of September and this is usually a period of school reopening, so the aisles are always full of enthusiastic shoppers sampling books and other stationery.

Savanis, like other bookshops, make their best sales in January when schools are opening for the new year, with students buying materials for their new classes. But a possible January 2021 reopening does not give the same promise.

“Remember students will be repeating classes. As such, we expect that they have already bought books for their current years and are unlikely to need new ones.”

This is also the season when universities admit freshmen, and Savanis sells a lot of equipment, including drawing paraphernalia for engineering, architecture, and arts students. 


Savanis Bookshop Trade around schools affected
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