For travelers using the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, the presence of street fish vendors selling to customers along the road has become a common sight.
The peddlers target passers-by and especially motorists on long journeys. Once purchased, the fish is then attached to the side mirrors of the vehicle until it reaches its final destination.
According to the Nakuru County Government, more than 300 youths are directly employed by the fish trade, with outlets located at various locations along the highway and along the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road.
However, the booming trade received praise and criticism in equal measure. If it is a source of employment for the residents of the lake, it also presents a risk to the health of fish consumers.
The way fish is stored and handled raises health concerns for consumers, according to University of Nairobi health expert Amos Otieno.
Mr. Otieno says poor handling practices lead to increased microbial contamination, accelerating the rate of fish spoilage.
Due to a lack of cold storage in the form of freezers, traders improvised coolers using containers filled with cold water and ice cubes. They put their fish in these containers while seeking market from passing motorists.
“Many traders don’t have coolers to store fish, so they rely on buckets of water, which exposes the fish to microbial contamination,” says Otieno.
He adds that the fish are exposed to dust, heat and fumes from vehicle exhausts. This is compounded by the way the fish is transported after being tethered outside of moving vehicles.
Mr Otieno says food poisoning from contaminated fish is considered one of the worst forms of poisoning as it can lead to death if left untreated. This, he says, is why the issue of fish handling and storage along the highway needs to be addressed urgently.
Samuel Wambugu, a trader, says the trade has provided employment opportunities for many young people from nearby Naivasha estates.
They buy the fish from fishermen in Lake Naivasha and farmers involved in aquaculture in Naivasha and Kinangop.
“We ensure that the catch of the day is fully sold and the rest is sold to local hotel owners who cook and sell it to their customers,” says Mr. Wambugu.
He admits that traders face some challenges, especially in storing and selling fish. He says traders are often stopped by public health officials and their products confiscated for health reasons.
But in a move that could revolutionize Naivasha’s fish industry, the Nakuru County government, in partnership with the Eastern Africa Grain Council, has begun construction of a 249 million shilling fish market along the highway. According to Janet Ngombalu of EAGC, the project is part of a larger mission to facilitate food trade in the region.
She said the modern “smart” market will offer solar-powered cold storage services.
“The contractor is already on site and we expect the first phase of the market to be ready by December 31,” she said, noting that the market will be located in the center of Karai, 10 km of the city of Naivasha.
Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the market will offer other different services including a vegetable market for local farmers.
The Governor described the market as the region’s next economic engine, as its location will attract motorists using the highway.
Naivasha East MCA, Stanley Karanja, said many hawkers were killed and others injured while selling their fish on the highway.
“We have agreed with the contractor that he will meet the deadlines and that the young people of the region will get 70% of the jobs,” he said.