Fruits and vegetables available in one of the kiosks in Lumakanda.

The purpose of commercial farming is to sell the harvest to outsiders to secure income and profit. An additional purpose for export crops such as coffee, tea, and cut flowers is to earn foreign exchange for the country. Government officials, economists, and development experts love export crops and promote them vigorously. But the goal of small scale farmers is to provide food for themselves and their neighbors. This Report from Kenya discusses the local markets in Lumakanda town.

Lumakanda is the government seat of Lugari sub-county, so there are government offices, two police stations, schools, and a hospital, with many supporting businesses. As a result, there are many employees who need to buy food. Moreover no small-scale farmer is self-sufficient as they will always need to buy some items that they don’t grow or don’t have at a particular time.

One of the produce stands in Lumakanda.

One day I walked around town and counted twenty-three places that were selling fruits and vegetables. Moreover, there were stands that were not open during my count and I probably missed some since I didn’t cover every street in the town. All of these are owned by women. I also counted six women who just laid out their goods on some cloth on the ground. I once read in the newspaper that sixty percent of Kenyan women have a side occupation.

The most ambitious of these kiosks are major small businesses that open all day. Women go to Kipkarren River five kilometers (three miles) away on motorcycles to buy what they need at the market on Thursdays and Sundays. They also bring produce that their family and neighbors produce. Whenever we have an excess of any crop we have no difficulty selling it wholesale to these market women.

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A produce stand attached to a shop.

 Other smaller kiosks open only from about 4 to 7 PM. Some are connected with the regular shops in town as an addition to soap, sugar, cooking oil, and other common consumer items sold in the shop.

The vegetables offered by one of the women who just put their goods on a cloth.

Almost all the stands sell tomatoes and onions, used by everyone in the local cuisine. Greens of all kinds including cabbage and collard greens are also common. Then there are other less common items such as cooking bananas, omena (a very small fish from Lake Victoria that is eaten with ugali), carrots, butternut squash, and various fruits including yellow bananas, oranges, and mangoes. In addition to produce, some of the women sell charcoal or firewood. 

The women who sell from a cloth on the ground specialize in the various greens that they probably grow themselves. When they don’t have anything to sell, they don’t come to town. There are also a two different boys who come to our house on some afternoons selling greens to us and their other customers. I am sure these were grown by their mothers. Two women also sit outside the Lumakanda Township School selling small pieces of sugar cane to the students as they leave school late in the afternoon.

Milk sold from the afternoon milking at the kiosk from the top picture.

Milk is also sold in town. There is one man who sits at the main corner in town in the morning selling his milk. There is also a “milk bar” in town which is a regular shop. This is all local milk. When we have a surplus from our afternoon milking, we sell it to one of the main merchants in town who resells it.

There are four butcher shops in town that sell beef and one that sells pork. People slaughter chickens themselves. If a person wants to buy a chicken, if he/she can’t get one from neighbors, he/she has to go to Kipkarren River to purchase it.

Lumakanda is in no way unique. These produce kiosks are everywhere along the roads. 

I have no doubt that these activities are profitable in time and money for the women who do them. If they weren’t, they would stop. Note that people do not have refrigerators so they need to buy produce every day or two.

The result is a thriving local economy as money continues to circulate in the community. One piece of evidence for the circulation of money is that the 50/- (50 US cents) and 100/- ($1.00) notes are all crumpled, dirty, and torn from continued use. Economists don’t like this local economy because this trade cannot be taxed. I suspect that it is not even adequately included in the gross domestic product of the country. As the small-scale farmer sells and buys from his/her neighbors, this becomes another method of building community and resiliency for the farmer.

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