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COVID- 19: Kabarole fresh foods vendors stranded as customer numbers dwindle

Food markets in Kabarole district have registered a sharp drop in customer numbers following a series of tough measures aimed at combating the spread of the novel Coronavirus in Uganda.

On March 25, President Museveni suspended all public means of passenger transport including buses, taxis and coasters in a bid to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Less than one week later (on March 30), a ban on private vehicles was declared.

Although all the presidential directives since the advent of the crisis have left untouched the food markets, fresh food vendors at Mpanga and Kabundaire markets in Kabarole district say the restrictions on transport have negatively impacted them by making it difficult for customers to access the market.

Irene Kugonza, a food vendor in Mpanga market, says that since the ban on transportation was declared, customers started reducing drastically.

“By declaring the ban on both public and private transport means, the president banned food markets too, indirectly. You cannot stop people from moving and then say that we (food vendors) should continue with our business as usual. Whom do you want us to sell the food to?” Kugonza asked.

Kugonza says dealers in the highly perishable fresh foods were caught flat-footed by the lockdown directive.

“If customers are not coming to the market, that means a loss for us because fresh foods start to go bad very quickly. If this situation continues for a few months, we shall be out of business,” she says.

Grace Komukyeyo, a fresh foods vendor in Kabundaire market, Kabarole district, says the daily seven kilometre trek to and from the market to sell her goods is getting increasingly more unbearable.

 “If I had another source of income, I would stop selling fresh foods in the market until the situation stabilises, because walking morning and evening, everyday, is not easy, especially at my age,” she says.

Even worse, Komukyeyo says, is the prospect of getting only a few customers or none at the end of the day, despite the long trek.

“I may end up giving up because you cannot walk everyday hoping to get money, only to get about three customers the whole day,” she laments.

Even leaders at the markets say they are helpless in the face of countrywide measures against the COVID-19 pandemic that have ground the national economy to a halt. 

“Everything has changed since this situation started, but we cannot do much for our people because these measures do not affect Kabarole alone, but the whole country and the world at large,” said Kabundaire market Chairman, Idi Mubaraka Kasoke .

Mubaraka urged traders to keep calm and strive to be safe until normalcy returns. 

Fort Portal municipality Mayor, Rev. Willy Kintu Muhanga, called on the public to adhere to health guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health as well as the presidential directives on the prevention of COVID-19.

“This Coronavirus pandemic caught the entire world unawares and has no cure, but prevention is the best medicine for it,” Rev. Muhanha said.

Uganda had 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by press time.

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