November 22nd 2017

Society / Environment

Heroines of Nairobi food supply chain, 'mama mbogas' paying heaviest price for plastic ban

"My customers are used to free packaging and carrying bags, so I can’t start selling to them now or hike the prices of my products to cushion myself from the bio-friendly bags, they won’t accept", says the South B based stall owner.

By Julius ChemiteiTuesday, 05 Sep 2017 11:40 EAT

Plastic bags.

For Bernadette Muthui, groceries business is what has kept her four children in school. Since she first came to Nairobi from her upcountry home in 1996, it is the groceries business that has help her meet the daily needs of her life, and she speaks highly about her experiences in the trade.

At 54, Bernadette has seen a number of policies enacted by the government and new regulations introduced, but none has hit close to her business as the current one on plastics. The estate vegetable vendor relied on polythene papers to package small and various orders by consumers. None of the bags so far designed by manufacturers can beat plastic, which was convenient for purchases as little as Sh5.

The lack of small bags has led buyers to shy away for fear of being arrested for continued usage of the outlawed polythene bags which automatically hit at her sales, dropping drastically for the last seven days. She recalls with nostalgia the days when customers used to carry leaves of kales wrapped in old newspaper wrappers, but today’s generation want the vegetables prepared ready for cooking, buying it already cut by the seller.

"My customers are used to free packaging and carrying bags, so I can’t start selling to them now or hike the prices of my products to cushion myself from the bio-friendly bags, they won’t accept", says the South B based stall owner. Her main concern however is the paper-based wrappers which have replaced the plastics are not able to hold wet products like vegetables for long as they get soaked in moisture. There is also the challenge of packing multiple products in the papers since they are inelastic.

In a normal case she would pay 1$ for at least two hundred pieces of the plastic bags for packaging, but under the new arrangement she has to incur an extra cost since one bio bag costs almost same as the cost of a dozen of the plastic bag. "The kind of business I run does not guarantee much returns in a good day I make up to $10 but in most cases its normally lower, in this case I can’t afford the bio friendly bags," says Bernadette.

Although the Government has granted the traders and buyers a window of 14 days to lay off the plastics, the little mama mbogas as the small scale grocers are popularly referred to by their customers feel that the time given is insufficient since the manufacturers have not been in a position to start produce the alternative bags should the window elapse end of this week.

Despite these challenges, many traders understand the effects of the plastic bags to the environment and are aware that the ban will be good in the long term. The mama mbogas have been told by environmentalists how the plastic bags take long to decay and that some end up clogging domestic waterways, end up eaten by animals like cattle or poison the soil. But Bernadette is appealing to stakeholders to come up with an exit plan that doesn’t exert weight on her customers driving them away.

Kenya becomes the first country in the world with the hefty penalty on environmental offenders by imposing a four year jail term or $40,000 and hangs behind China, France and Netherlands among other 40 world countries in its quest to passing stringent legislation. This lower income country years for the best environmental conservationist and cab the fear raised by, among others, UNEP Environment Report which has forecasted that by the year 2050 there would be more plastic paper in Kenya’s oceans than fish.

There has been a fruitful arrangement by midchain stores popularly known as supermarkets who’ve started using bio friendly bags to package goods at an affordable price while providing for a collection point for used now illegal plastic bags.

Manufacturers already concerned of about the closure of 176 manufacturing plants which gives out 60,000 jobs to Kenyans directly and millions of others indirectly.

The writer, an experienced journalist, is a contributing reporter for the Kenya Free Press





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