A Street Vending Ban in Zambia Causes Problems for Farmers

After a cholera outbreak, the Zambian government banned the selling of produce on the streets, even though the capital, Lusaka, was home to perhaps more than 10,000 street vendors. Now, farmers say they struggle to sell their crops, much of which went to the vendors, who then sold the produce at stands.

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A Street Vending Ban in Zambia Causes Problems for Farmers

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Buyers can purchase tomatoes at rock-bottom prices, now that street vendors, banned from working in Zambia, no longer buy most of the produce that farmers bring in.

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LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — The first day, Bernard Mumba prices his box of tomatoes at 70 Zambian kwacha (about $6).

Nothing sells.

By the next day, the farmer offers the box at 30 kwacha (about $2.60), and this time his shouts, intended to attract buyers, are nearly drowned out by other shouting vendors.

At this point, selling the tomatoes at any price is better than watching them rot, Mumba says.

“Business has been slow,” he says. “We are all counting our losses.”

Most of Mumba’s customers were street vendors, he says, who then sold the produce at their informal stands. But since street vending was banned, farmers who sell their produce here struggle to find buyers.

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Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Tomatoes rot in the garbage that litters areas that are used as informal markets in Lusaka, Zambia.

The official ban began in January, when street vending was cited by the government as an unhygienic practice that might have contributed to a cholera outbreak. There were more than 5,900 cholera cases between October 2017 and this May, including 114 deaths.

Now, anyone found trading on the street or in an undesignated place could face a fine. It’s still legal to sell in formal markets, but those places have limited space and charge fees. Informal street vending is a time-honored solution for many vendors, who can still earn a living without joining a formal market.

Masiye Zulu, a street vendor who was convicted of selling vegetables illegally, says she still sells produce, but only late in the evenings, after the police have turned in.

“Markets are full, so most of us are forced to sell on the street,” she says. “There are also fees to be paid to trade in a marketplace, so we prefer to work on the streets. But, since we are pursued by council police, we start selling in the evenings, and that, too, has reduced our sales and our orders.”

Before the ban on street vending, Zulu sold a box of tomatoes every day, but now it takes her two to three days to sell the same amount of produce.

More than 15,000 street vendors in Lusaka have been displaced, says Teddy Sinkala, president of United Street Vendors Foundation Co-operative Society. (Global Press Journal could not independently verify that number.)

As of September, more than 400 vendors had been convicted of charges related to the practice of street vending, says George Sichimba, the Lusaka City Council’s public relations manager.

Those who default on the fine face two weeks in jail, Sichimba says.

Farmers and their advocates say the ban threatens to put farmers out of business, too.

“The farmers’ customer base has reduced, because those street vendors were a clientele of the farmers, and they would sell the vegetables and fruits at any time of the day,” says Maria Zaloumis, the Zambia National Farmers’ Union committee chairperson for fruits and vegetables.

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Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Bernard Mumba, a farmer, stands on top of his tomato crop in Lusaka, Zambia. Mumba once easily sold his tomatoes to street vendors, but since those vendors were banned from operating, he’s struggled to earn money.

Mumba, the tomato seller, says he once sold 150 boxes of produce every day. Now, he says, that process takes multiple days, and he has to lower his price multiple times during those days.

Judy Chileshe, another farmer, says she invested in cabbage this year when she thought the market would be hot.

“I spent about 4,000 kwacha (about $336) growing cabbages, and I had about 3,500 heads that I thought I would sell at K5 (42 cents.) But the business was very slow. I ended up selling the heads at K2 (17 cents) and K1 (8 cents), and that gave me a loss,” she says.

Vincent Mwale, the minister of local government, says his office has provided temporary market shelters for street vendors to use while permanent markets are constructed.

But Sinkala, the United Street Vendors Foundation Co-operative Society president, says those temporary shelters can’t house all the street vendors who want to sell their wares.

Mumba says he hopes to send some of his produce to a processing plant, so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Zaloumis, the farmers’ union chairperson, says that’s an expensive endeavor – one she hopes the government will commit to.

“I am sure when there is money for such, it will be granted, because the will is there,” he says.

The ban on street vending was effective in curbing cholera, Mwale says, but that was one part of a larger effort.

“This year we have not recorded any case of cholera – and we hope not to,” he says.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ, translated some interviews from Nyanja.