From the Field How well do traditional markets contribute to improving consumers’ diets in Kisumu?

Open air food market in Kisumu, Kenya

authors include Consolata Musita 

The kind of foods made available to consumers and their affordability often influences consumer behaviour. This story gives a brief snapshot of the dynamics of two markets in Manyatta, Kisumu, from the consumer’s point of view. Understanding the price dynamics faced each day by consumers is key in the path to improve their nutrition. 

Leafy vegetables displayed at the market (Credit Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT)

Leafy vegetables displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya, has a population of about 610,000 (2019) and is projected to increase to 1 Million in 2022. Out of these 40% are residing in informal settlements with limited access to nutritious food and clean water. Poor diet quality and low dietary diversity have been shown to be associated with nutritional deficiencies, which have broad impacts on more than just health. The Kisumu Food Systems Lab (FSL-Ki) under the HealthyFoodAfrica Project is working on diverse food system challenges across several sectors to tackle this issue, but the common goal remains the same: diverse, nutritious food for the urban poor. 
How much variety of foods is on a person's dish (what scientists call dietary diversity) is associated with whether the person is receiving adequate amount of nutrients from his or her diet. In the baseline study conducted by the FSL-Ki, dietary diversity measured by 24h recall in both women of reproductive age (15-49 years) and children aged 6-23 months was measured in four informal settlements in Kisumu, namely Manyatta A, Manyatta B, Bandani, and Obunga. Initial results show that overall, less than 50% of women and children reached minimum dietary diversity for nutrient adequacy a gap that needs more attention.

Fruits displayed at the market by Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Fruits displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Market price survey

High food prices at the traditional markets may influence the amount and diversity of foods consumers purchase. Informal discussions with members of the Kisumu community indicated that prices for fruits and vegetables vary greatly on a day-to-day basis and within the same day. The price variability could not be explained by seasonality, but was a result of other factors not understood by the research team.

A rapid market study was conducted in two traditional markets in Manyatta informal settlements: Kondele Market and Manyatta Peace Market. Kondele market is more informal without official market building, compared to the Manyatta Peace Market which has market buildings. Price data on various commodities were collected across three days capturing prices on the same day as well as across days. It was hypothesised that prices may be lower in Kondele market because vendors may not feel obliged to pay the official fees charged to sell at an official markets.

The prices for fresh fruits, vegetables and commodities like salt, wheat flour and sugar did not vary within the same day. Vendors in these markets reported to buy these commodities in the mornings from larger wholesalers and from Kibuye market, a large wholesale market in Kisumu city. Once the products are purchased, a price is determined based on what was paid at the wholesaler, and this remains the same throughout the day. Later in the evenings when the quality of fresh produce such as African leafy vegetables and tomatoes have deteriorated, their prices remained the same as in the morning. This can result in food waste in case the vendors throw away some of the unsold produce. Consecutively, this would lead to loss of income for vendors.

Fresh fish displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Fresh fish displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Dried Omena displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Dried Omena displayed at the market. ©Emma van der Meulen/ Alliance Bioversity International and CIAT

Figure 1 below shows the daily price in both the afternoon and morning for fresh tilapia, dry Omena, and bunches of African leafy vegetables (ALVs) at Kondele and Manyatta Peace Market (MPM). The price of a bunch of ALVs (1 bunch is approximately 500 grams) was the same in both markets at the different times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of the study week. A bunch of ALVs cost the same regardless of the type, therefore consumers can reliably estimate how much one bunch of leafy vegetables such as Amaranth or Black Nightshade will cost them.

There is a large price variation for fresh tilapia fish within the same day and between the two markets. Both the availability and the price of fish, specifically sundried and fresh tilapia (not included in the graph), was extremely variable in both markets. This was partly because vendors determine the price of fish based on the size and there are no scales available to know exactly how much each fish weighs. The prices for dry omena were relatively stable in the two markets compared to fresh tilapia. Omena fish are measured in standard sized tins therefore the prices were much more predictable. The price for 2kg of dry omena was also relatively stable, the variation possibly coming from differences between vendors.

Conversely, as previously mentioned, the price for fresh tilapia was erratic. Vendors typically price the fish based on whether they are “small”, “medium” or “large”. Without a scale, consumers do not know whether the size of fish they buy on one day is really the same amount as one purchased on a different day because there is no standardised unit used in the two markets. Without knowing how much a fish weighs, consumers accept what the vendor says in regard to the weight of the fish and are at risk of being short-changed as they cannot compare prices.

At the same time vendors would have a price for the fish but the consumer would have a chance to negotiate upon which the vendor agrees to sell. This is reflected in our results, as we experienced difficulties collecting prices for similarly sized fish, a similar experience to what a consumer may have.

Figure 1. Daily price in both the afternoon and morning for fresh tilapia, dry Omena, and bunches of African leafy vegetables (ALVs) at Kondele and Manyatta Peace Market (MPM).

Figure 1. Daily (morning and afternoon) price, for fresh tilapia, dry Omena, and bunches of African leafy vegetables (ALVs) at Kondele and Manyatta Peace Market (MPM).

Availability of certain products was different between the two markets. Manyatta Peace Market rarely had pineapple or watermelon available, and in the morning survey it was also rare to find tilapia fish. This means that the products are not always available and/ or are limited, and there is not much certainty for consumers that they will be able to buy what they want. It also raises the argument that perhaps these products might be expensive for the potential buyers and therefore they opt out of buying, or that the products are undesirable at Manyatta Peace Market, and are therefore rarely in stock, as vendors only purchase what they know they can sell. This may lead consumers to purchase less desirable commodities available in the markets hence contributing to poor dietary diversity.

How can we use this to help consumers?

This short survey has given us a brief snapshot of the dynamics of these markets from the consumer’s point of view and product availability. Consumers from Manyatta informal settlement face several challenges while purchasing their food, ranging from inconsistent availability, products’ quality deterioration, to difficulties in getting fair value for products due to unstandardised selling units. Consumers may also have to buy lower quality products for the same prices depending on the time of day they shop.
Fish in Kisumu is one of the two value chains the FSL-Ki is focusing on. Understanding the possibility of the fish value chain, actors (retailers, wholesalers, distributors and fisherfolk) using standardised measuring unit for fish, such as scales would empower consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing fish. By standardizing the selling units, fish vendors would still price the fish as they wish but would give more power to the consumer to decide whether they are getting a fair price or not. This is not only applicable to fish, but all fresh produce.

The inconsistent availability of certain products also raises further needs for investigation. Do people find certain products at different markets undesirable? Are the products too expensive at the wholesaler for vendors? Is there a problem with commodity sourcing in certain markets?

If there is no demand for fish and fruits at Manyatta, perhaps this could be a target for a nutrition education campaign among vendors and consumers to promote them. If vendors do not have enough bargaining power to buy these products at prices fair enough for wholesalers to make a profit, then better market linkages and perhaps even direct linkages to farmers could be established. Similarly, strong market linkages with food suppliers and fisherfolk would help address the sourcing challenges, if any.

Besides pricing, to keep produce fresh in an environment without cooling equipment poses a challenge. During the day, the freshness of  vegetables and fish declines, causing the quality of the produce to deteriorate and creating a need for solutions to maintain high food safety standards high and keep foods fresh until sold. Some vendors pour water on the fresh vegetables during the day, others do not. The quality and safety standard of the water used by the vendors may be questionable. Vendors can also be advised on how to keep their produce fresh and or increase the chances of the sale of lower quality products by reducing prices, which would reduce food waste and reduce the risk of total income loss from unsold products.
This research gives an outlook of the difficulties faced each day by consumers and shows the importance of starting a dialogue with all stakeholders in a food system to view challenges from different perspectives.