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  • Writer's pictureFemi Abodunde

Traditional Markets in Sub Sahara Africa

African market places are primarily used for trading and marketing. People visit these markets for many reasons including retail shopping, to buy and sell agricultural produce, settle legal disputes, get the latest news, and even for religious activities. Most interactions and transactions in these markets involve plenty of "haggling." To haggle means "to dispute, especially about a price or the terms of a bargain."

Items sold at these markets can vary by location. Because the Sub Sahara African economy is mainly agriculture, that is what is usually sold. Many items pass through these markets such as: local produce, craft products, livestock, clothing etc

For example, the people of North #Africa are skilled in pottery-making and carpet-weaving, so on roadsides they display what they have made for passers by to purchase. In Tangier locally produced oranges, and other fruits and vegetables, are for sale. Melons, peppers, and other exotic fruits and vegetables are what is mostly sold at outdoor markets in Senegal.

Weights and measures are more or less nonexistent in these traditional markets. All types of measures are used including - quart beer bottles, standard-size cigarette boxes and four kerosene cans, and even empty 30-30 shell casings.

In some traditional market places, a shrine can be found which indicates that the market place was consecrated- a religious act. The purpose of the shrine is to maintain the peace in the market place.

All markets are policed by someone. Traditional marketplaces are as important politically, as they are socially in many parts of Sub Sahara Africa. Special deputies or policemen of the local government, special appointees, kinsmen of a chief, or special groups designated by society's elders to carry out security tasks. In some markets administrators are tasked with quality control. Unsatisfactory goods, such as rotten meat, cannot be sold. Some authorities are paid a salary by the local government.

These markets are a great place for entertainment, and for getting an education on local culture, especially in #WestAfrica and #Congo. Each market has its own type of fair or carnival atmosphere.

Voice of America

Most Africans continue to buy their food at these teeming, chaotic open-air food markets that would make many hygiene-conscious Westerners squirm. But the International Livestock Research Institute released a surprising finding: that the milk and meat from these informal markets is often fresher -- and safer -- than what is found in the Western-style African supermarkets that are spreading across the continent.

Delia Grace, who leads the food safety program at the Nairobi-based organization, said in a statement that the study looked at eight countries, including the West Africa nations of Mali and Ghana, the East Africa nation of Kenya and the southern African coastal nation of Mozambique.

"We are wrong to think that we can just adopt solutions developed in wealthy countries that favor large commercial operations over small producers," she said.

It’s an unexpected conclusion that may bolster the continent’s informal food sector, which has long been the main source of food for many Africans -- especially for the poor, for those in rural communities and for people with few transport options. ILRI estimates that informal markets still supply between 85 and 95 percent of all food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa. And their supremacy is unlikely to be dented by the continent’s spreading supermarket chains: by 2040, ILRI estimates, informal markets will still supply up to 70 percent of consumers’ demand.

The organization also notes that small markets also have a necessary place in the economy.   

“Attempts to make food safer by enforcing high standards can have unwanted effects, such as preventing small farmers and women from earning income from their work,” the report said.

For many Africans, where they buy their food is not a choice so much as a necessity. Informal markets often offer lower prices and greater convenience.

The researchers noted that these open air markets are not just vital, they may even be, well, cool. After all, researchers noted, informal markets are the embodiment of an aesthetic and environmental movement that has spread like wildfire in wealthy Western nations - the trend of eating locally sourced products, often bought directly from the producers.  

Africa’s markets, Grace said, “in many ways mirror the 'locavore' trend.”

Sources: Anita Powell - Voice of America, Melissa Nelson - Markets in Africa


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