Vendors in despair

18 July 2019 | Agriculture

Mahangu flour vendors operating at various open markets in Rundu are struggling to pay back loans they took to purchase unprocessed grain from farmers, because their customers have turned to supermarkets that sell at lower prices.

The vendors say they are heavily in debt and sales are taking place at a snail's pace.

The vendors are severely affected by the current drought, which has also affected thousands of subsistence farmers around the country.

They vendors said a 50-kilogram bag of mahangu grain used to cost them N$350 last year, but this year it is being sold by farmers for N$500.

Kavango East is described by many as a potential food basket for Namibia, while at the same time it also one of the poorest regions, where the majority of inhabitants are subjected to abject poverty.

Kavango East governor Samuel Mbambo revealed recently during his State of the Region Address (Sora) that 60% of the youth in the region are unemployed.

Namibian Sun interviewed 12 women vendors this week, who shared how their mahangu flour businesses are affected by the fact that they have to compete against well-established supermarkets.

“We are unable to pay back the money we borrowed in order to buy stock and the little we get we have to use it and pay for necessities for our children at boarding schools and tertiary institutions, and also for food at home,” the group of women at the Rundu open market said.

For some, this has been their means of survival for the past 20 years. The women, who preferred anonymity, explained they charge N$250 for a 10-kilogram bag of mahangu flour, while in certain supermarkets the same product costs around N$160. This was confirmed during visits to supermarkets at the town. “Business is not going well. We hardly sell anything here. Look at the time, its 12:00, and that lady who just bought mahangu was the first one to buy from us for the day. Things are not well, because people are buying from the shops, where it is cheaper,” one of the vendors explained. The vendors said retailers have entered into agreements with farmers in the area, who supply them directly.

The farmers who sell the mahangu flour to the shops are the same ones selling grain to the vendors, who then have it pounded and sell the end-product.

They vendors said buying 50kg bag of mahangu grain for N$500 this year is “unacceptable”, but they do not have a choice.

“The demand for mahangu grain has increased and it is affecting our business, the only thing we could do was to also increase our prices, in order to make a profit,” they said.

Some young vendors, who are selling on behalf of others, said they are paid based on what they sell, and because of the poor mahangu sales they are not guaranteed a salary at the end of the month.

There is now scramble for every potential customer who enters the market. There are many mahangu vendors at the Rundu open market, as well as the Sauyemwa and Tandaveka markets. “If you do not sell anything for the month or just a mere N$300, your boss will give you nothing at the end of the day. That is why we have to try by all means to convince customers to buy from us,” the vendors said.

KENYA KAMBOWE

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