Health & Fitness

Why time is up for Wakulima Market

Tomatoes traders
Tomatoes traders. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

If you are an early city bird commuting by public means, you will observe central business district (CBD)-bound matatus with women passengers and sacks from different routes: the destination, Wakulima Market, which also arguably holds the largest fleet of mikokoteni (handcarts) and trolleys in Nairobi.

Constructed in 1966 and envisaged to hold 300 vendors, it was meant to serve as the central wholesale food distribution point for the 427,000 or thereabout city dwellers then. It’s easy to see why locating Wakulima at its siting was necessary, located just behind Kenya Railways headquarters and the Nairobi bus station, it was Kenya’s food logistics centre.

The transport of food by rail may have since ended, in its place, hundreds of trucks haul food to Nairobi daily. As envisaged wholesalers would trickle down the food to the few estates also strategically located along the railways. City historians indicate Maringo, Muthurwa, Shauri Moyo, Ofafa and Jericho, among others are examples.

One of the challenges city’s planners did not anticipate is that the dwellers would balloon to the current numbers. How do you feed the close to three million inhabitants three meals daily as well as refreshments?

Proximity to the CBD leads to a spillover of traders from Wakulima Market, birthing foodstuff hawkers on the streets and Nyamakima Market, creating chaos in the CBD, directly and indirectly. Scholar, Kimurei arap Maritim’s 1975 work ‘Analysis of Produce Flows to Wakulima Wholesale Market” makes interesting reading so do subsequent follow-up study for those at the city planning department.


Is Wakulima Market still necessary as situated and designed?

Logistics experts will argue about the centralised distribution model. Other schools of thought suggest alternatives aren’t that bad, especially in a congested city like Nairobi. For every 30-tonne truck that arrives in the market, an equivalent of 300 vendors are needed to empty its cargo hold.

Similarly, these vendors require an equivalent number of handcart or trolley pushers to move their loads to matatus.

Importantly, however, is the garbage generated from rejected fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, among others.

The ease of access to foodstuffs makes it possible for street vendors to set up shop and the ensuing melees in running battles with city askaris.

With shrinking CBD acreage and need to maintain cleanliness, we need to consider revamping Nairobi’s food supply chain with modern food logistics?

The move towards smaller peripherally distributed foodstuffs and vegetable centres is necessary. Commendable progress towards this is being made by the city planners.

Kimurei’s thesis is an initial evaluation of the space available for vendors, market organisation, waste generated and the collection as well as the externalities associated with Wakulima’s location.

The Kenya Railways as well as the city’s renewal master plan sound the market’s ultimate closure and should enable the area’s transformation into an urban passengers logistics centre.