Meru County last month commenced the construction of a Sh94 million market that will remove thousands of banana traders from roadsides on the main Nairobi-Meru highway.
The market will be at Ntharene, the busiest banana trade centre where about 400 tonnes of bananas change hands every Monday with a turnover of Sh5 million.
Meru Banana Cooperative Society has 4,200 members who bring their produce to Ntharene. Traders arrive from as far as Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru and Marsabit to purchase stock.
The ripe fruit stores look neat and orderly, with disciplined traders who do not venture into the highway. But the Monday wholesale trading is chaotic.
The county government of Meru estimates to organise about 3,500 farmers, traders, loaders and transporters who arrive every Monday for trading and with no market on site, all transactions take place on the roadside.
Market chairman John Mutugi said when the construction is completed next year, users will be shielded from challenges brought about by weather and risks associated with trading on the roadside.
Athough the main banana market is in Ntharene, substantial trading happens on roadsides in nearby Mwichiune, Kanyakine and further down at Mutonga as you wind the road towards Tharaka Nithi county.
Margaret Makena who brings produce to the area for trading every Monday and has over the years built a reliable network of buyers said roadside trading was the most dangerous engagement they get into.
“I can imagine the damage if something went wrong but God is always with us as we make our honest living,” said Makena.
Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi who launched the construction said he expects enhanced safety of the traders and security of the produce.
“This market will also offer improved food safety and hygiene and reduction of risk losses due to extreme weather and in turn better banana prices,” said Kiraitu.
The county government also expects enhanced revenue for both the county government and the society and an increase in the number of market days from one to two each week.
The construction is under the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) implemented by the national government through the Ministry of Agriculture with funding from the World Bank and participating county governments.
“A total of Sh285 million has been received as a conditional grant and the county has contributed Sh18 million," added Kiraitu.