What maize roasting's arrival in the CBD says about economy

Roasted maize on sale along Likoni Road, Nairobi, August 16, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

For only Sh40, you can buy a well-roasted maize cob at the junction of Koinange Street and University Way.

Maize is finally mainstream. I bought a cob and enjoyed it, more so with some pilipili (pepper) and lemon. I could tell it was fresh.

We are used to seeing such maize in “other parts“ of the city and not the central business district (CBD).

Could this be a sign that the economy has not done very well and the affluent parts of the city are “regressing” to the mean?

Whatever the reason, it was an encounter with hustling. The jiko (cooking stove) for roasting maize is nothing but charcoal on a wheelbarrow! Maize cobs are lined up and slowly roasted in the open. 

Once you buy the cob, it’s wrapped in a “ green maize cover.” One is to prevent the hot cob from burning you and to keep it clean, it’s often dusty. 

A trader sells roasted maize at Hacienda market, Ngara, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The owner of the wheelbarrow (roaster) informed me that he sells about 50 cobs a day. Do your math. Is this the epitomisation of bottom-up economics? This encounter left me thinking.


How long is the supply chain of this wheelbarrow micro-enterprise? Where does he source his maize? Who designed this roaster? 

Who reaps from this supply chain? How much is the maize roasting industry worth in Kenya?

Who are the key players? How can we scale it up? Such wheelbarrows are common in Kawangware but they carry “cold“ items like vegetables or tomatoes. 

We need to go beyond the wheelbarrow roaster.

When is the roasted or boiled maize getting to our supermarkets? When are we getting an automated maize roaster? When are we branding roasted maize, for example, Koinange maize? Have you seen “Dawa” packaged and available in supermarkets? 

Roasted maize on sale in a wheelbarrow on the street in the CBD. [XN Iraki, Standard]

This small wheelbarrow enterprise might not be a thesis topic in the university across the street, it seems as too local (roko), away from textbooks. A study based on the stock market would be preferred, it sounds more exotic. But this one-man firm epitomises the reality of the Kenyan economy, it’s 80 per cent informal according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). 

This sector got enough attention during the run-up to the 2022 polls. We hope this interest will be sustained and get more attention from scholars, researchers, policymakers and funders. Maybe I should invite this young man to my class to talk about his enterprise.

Will he one day own a maize plantation and formalise maize roasting? Do you run a one-man enterprise? What are your dreams? Talk to us.