By Rachel Linnemann
Editor’s note: Students from Michigan State University and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources are exploring frugal market innovations in Malawi. This is one of their reports.
It was the second design charrette with representatives from the markets.
Many traders were there to advocate for changes to happen at Tsoka Market. The room was full of a sense of hope but also what felt like an expectation of failure.
“We have been asking the City Council for change, maybe this time something can actually be done,” exclaimed one of the vegetable traders. The focus of this design charrette was on solutions. The first task was to agree on focusing on one challenge to design an innovative solution for.
I was surprised how smoothly this task went. In one of our previous interviews at the market, traders would say, “We will be happy if we see a change in any of these challenges.” This surely is not enough, but there seemed to be a consensus in the room that hope for something was better than nothing. The most needed and feasible project agreed upon was implementing security lights at Tsoka market.
There is a sense of unity among traders at Tsoka Market. Creating a collaborative environment is another thing that traders are creating to improve their livelihoods, despite the absence of City Council. There are many associations that were created in order to come together and work collaboratively. This demonstrates the power among the people.
We talked to women who are part of a tomato association. The women in the tomato association feel empowered by one another and discuss the challenges that come with selling tomatoes among people who understand. When communicating with many women at the market, they discussed feeling united with other women at the market and comfortable sharing their opinions amongst one another.
At the same time, they did not feel that their opinions were being valued when it came to communication upward and with other men. They described feeling subordinate to men. An example of this described by several women was that when people come around the market to give out loans – they only give loans to male traders.
When discussing how the flow of communication would be handled with regard to the security light project, the first and most popular suggestion was creating a sub-committee among the traders dedicated to this specific project. The traders felt that this would be a way for the management and decisions being made about the security lights to remain in the hands of the traders – not the City Council. This would create a collective sense of ownership of the security lights among traders, who could then unite in their protection and maintenance.
This displays a mutual give and take between the traders and City Council. The traders need the approval and help with communication with Escom, the electricity company, from the City Council. The traders are also in agreement that this is something that they need and are extremely willing to contribute what they can to ensure the sustainability and success of the project. This project is a chance for the City Council to recognize these types of innovation projects coming from the traders and start to create a space of trust and an opportunity for transparency, while recognizing that this is only the beginning – a process to be continued.
This work is about bringing those in power’s attention to the immediate issues that people working at the markets are facing. With regard to the issue of lack of security at the market, the City Council has repeatedly refused to approve the implementation of security lights because it would legitimize the fact that many people sleep at the market overnight.
The City Council said that their job is not to provide protection for those at night because the people are not supposed to be there. However, it is time to recognize the reality that many traders face in order to increase their profit margins, the same goal that the City Council has. Many traders travel from long distances in order to sell their produce at Tsoka Market. Many expressed spending 2-3 days on the road. It would be impossible for many traders to go home and make it back to the market in time to sell their food.
As a result, many spend the night at the market. This will continue, whether or not the City Council agrees to acknowledge the fact of not. The conditions at night are unsafe for traders, especially for women. Theft, violence, and vandalism occur inside the market, from the outside, due to the lack of security. Additionally, many traders wake up at 3:00am or 4:00am , when it is still dark out, to set up for the day. Having to do this work in the dark poses many challenges for traders and could be prevented by having security lights.