[dropcap]S[/dropcap]treet foods served by vendors and hawkers are a popular snacks cum meals in most developing countries due to the industry’s widespread benefits.
Benefits for vendors include low startup costs, flexible schedules and a fast return on investment, while benefits for consumers include affordability, fast service and ease of accessibility, illustrating their symbiotic relationship.
Like many other towns of the country and elsewhere, the streets of Kisii are thriving with vendors offering a variety of street foods including cooked bananas, rice, sausages, boiled eggs and groundnuts.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines street food as “ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and sold by vendors especially in streets and other similar public places.”
An estimated 2.5 billion people consume street foods everyday around the world. A spot check by Kenya News Agency (KNA) found that the number of hawkers and consumers of street food in the town is rising owing as area’s population increased buoyed by the booming economy, which has transformed it into a 24/7 business hub.
Opening of campuses by various universities in the town has also increased consumers of food just like other business products.
The hawkers and consumers of street food get many benefits but also face many challenges as KNA found out.
Douglas Momanyi, who stays at a rental house at Ufanisi estate in the town, is a boiled Egg Vendor at the town’s main bus terminal.
Before starting this business, he used to do construction work and also sell coffee at night.
The coffee business only made him Ksh 150 per night and the masonry job was hard to come by and had little returns hence prompting him to find another alternative.
He was later influenced by the friends, who hawked boiled eggs, and started the business with a capital of Ksh 280 that is one create of eggs.
He has now been there for three months and he makes a net profit of Ksh 400 each day as one boiled egg goes for Ksh 20.
“I am happy in this job. It helps me pay my rent early unlike in the past and provide for my family who also sell roasted groundnuts at Kisii town, but if I find a more paying job I won’t hesitate to go for it,” he says.
Momanyi starts his work at 11am and closes at 12 mid-night although county askaris often chase them away or they pay Ksh 500 to be released if caught.
“I was at one point imprisoned for hawking coffee,” Momanyi says.
Evelyn Moraa, 32, vends githeri (mixed beans and maize) along with cooked bananas mostly to matatu operators and passersby on a daily basis from 6am to 4pm at the Kisii town bus stage.
She says a plate of githeri and cooked bananas ranges from Ksh 20 to Ksh 30 respectively.
During the interview, she said her main reason of starting the business was to enable her cater for her family needs and also raise her daughter’s school fees, since her husband was not financially able to sustain the family fully.
She started the business in partnership with two others after raising a capital of Ksh 2, 000 but as time went by, the other two women quit, one for lacking a marketing strategy and the other after her husband’s demise.
She says the business has helped her pay fees for her daughter and caters for her ageing parent’s needs.
The main challenges that she and her colleagues undergo include harassment by the county askaris who demand that they relocate to an enclosed place, which would be more costly to them.
She added that the county government charges Ksh 30 in the county market (marikiti) unlike in their current area of operation.
However, County Director of Public Health and Sanitation Dr Richard Onkware notes that consumption of street foods poses health risks since it is sold while exposed to dust and other germs, which can easily contaminate it.
Onkware said that most of the street foods are sometimes exposed to dust from the blowing wind, splash of dirty water and flies.
This exposes consumers to bacteria, worms and pathogens from the ingested street food leading to disease outbreaks such as cholera and stomach upsets.
“Although the sale of street food is unlawful, we cannot ban it because it is the only means of livelihood for many people especially in Kisii where land has become scarce,” said Onkware.
He says public health regulations require all food handlers to be certified and issued with a medical certificate and all premises inspected to meet hygienic standards.
Those who operate without meeting the regulations are charged in court in accordance with the Public Health Act, which protects the public against consuming contaminated food substances.
The county government has created an environmental and public health department, which educates the public to have pit latrines in every home, with a covered roof, proper floor and walls, and which should be at least 30 feet from water sources.
Through this, he says the efforts have achieved 98% latrine cover in Kisii County. The public are also encouraged to wash their hands after coming from the toilet with clean water and soap before eating any food.
In addition, after washing utensils, they should air them outside in a dish rack to dry on the sun which helps to kill bacteria and pathogens, which hardly happens in the case of street food hawking.
The director reveals the government’s plan to build modern stalls to help vendors find a clean place to do their respective business and protect consumers from contaminated food.
He appealed to consumers of street food to watch out where they eat from and keep off contaminated food.
By Richard Mongei and Jane Naitore