Construction of a Sh249m 'smart' market to end fish hawkers' woes

A group of youths hawk fish in Karai centre in Naivasha along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway targeting passing motorists. [Antony Gitonga]

For travellers plying the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, the presence of fish hawkers selling to customers along the road has become a common sight. 

The hawkers target passersby and especially motorists on long-distance trips. Once purchased, the fish is then tied onto the vehicle’s side mirrors until its final destination.

According to the County Government of Nakuru, over 300 youth are directly employed by the fish trade, with selling points located on various spots along the highway and along the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road.

However, the booming trade has received praise and criticism in equal measure. While it is a source of employment for residents in the lakeside area, it also poses a health risk for consumers of the fish.

According to University of Nairobi health expert, Amos Otieno, the manner in which the fish is stored and handled raises health concerns for the consumers.

Mr Otieno says poor handling practices lead to s increased microbial contamination, thus hastening the spoilage rate of the fish.

Due to a lack of cold storage in form of freezers, traders have improvised coolers using containers filled with cold water and ice cubes. They put their fish in these containers while seeking market from the passing motorists.

“Many of the traders do not have coolers to store the fish, so they rely on water buckets and this exposes the fish to microbial contamination,” says Mr Otieno.

He adds that the fish is exposed to dust, heat and fumes from the exhaust pipes of vehicles. This is made worse by the manner in which the fish is ferried after being tied to the outside of moving vehicles.

Mr Otieno says food poisoning from contaminated fish is considered to be one of the worst forms of poisoning as it may cause death if not treated. This, he says, is the reason why the issue of fish handling and storage along the highway needs to be addressed urgently.

Samuel Wambugu, a trader, says the trade has offered job opportunities to many youths from nearby estates in Naivasha.

They buy the fish from fishermen in Lake Naivasha and farmers involved in aquaculture farming in Naivasha and Kinangop.

“We make sure that the day’s catch is completely sold out and the remainder is sold to local hotel owners who cook and sell it to their patrons,” Mr Wambugu says.

He admits that traders face some challenges, especially in the storage and selling of the fish. He says traders are often arrested by Public Health Officers and their products confiscated over health concerns.

But in a move that could revolutionise Naivasha’s fish industry, the County Government of Nakuru in partnership with the Eastern Africa Grain Council has begun the construction of a Sh249 million fish market along the highway. According to Janet Ngombalu from EAGC, the project is part of a bigger mission to facilitate food trade in the region.

She said the modern ‘smart’ market will offer cold storage services powered through solar energy.

“The contractor is already on the site and we expect the first phase of the market to be ready before December 31st,” she said, noting that the market will be located at Karai centre, 10km from Naivasha town.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the market will offer other different services including a vegetable market for local farmers.

The Governor described the market as the next economic driver in the region, as its location will attract motorists using the highway.

Naivasha East MCA, Stanley Karanja, said many hawkers have been killed and others injured while selling their fish on the highway.

“We have agreed with the contractor that he will keep the timelines and that local youth will get 70 per cent of the jobs,” he said.

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