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COVID-19: Transport ban paralyses major Gulu-Kampala highway market

Women dealing in groundnut paste (known locally as odii) and honey in Gulu municipality are registering very low sales following the suspension of public transportation due to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The group of about 30 women operates from a road-side market situated along Gulu -Kampala Highway next to a road-side park where travellers from South Sudan, West Nile, and Lango sub-regions have been boarding or disembarking from for years. These travellers were the women’s chief clients.

However, business at the market has been adversely affected by President Museveni’s March 25 countrywide suspension of all means of public transport including buses, taxis, and coasters in a bid to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus through person-to-person contact.

Although the sale of food items was not banned, the odii and honey market now hosts fewer than 10 sellers, with many stalls empty because of few clients.

Grace Aciro, a resident of Tegwana, a parish in Gulu Municipality, has been selling odii and honey in the market for eight years. Aciro explained that before the ban on public transportation, her turnover was much faster, with travellers clearing her stock within a maximum of three days.

“Most of our clients were travellers who came from districts outside northern Uganda, and South Sudan, many of whom do not know how to make odii, but like it.”

“I used to earn a minimum of forty thousand shillings a day from selling my honey and odii, but now, I only get 5,000 shillings on a lucky day,” she said.

Aciro said the turnover rate plummeted immediately after the ban.

“I have not sold all the groundnut paste that I made a day before the ban.“ 

She also revealed that a few days before the order against public transportation, they sold huge quantities of honey, owing to speculation that honey might be useful in treating COVID-19, given that dry cough is one of its common symptoms. 

“Honey has always been a home-remedy for coughs and sore throats, so it was among the many things that people rushed to buy in large quantities,” she said.

According to Aciro, the traders had hoped that selling honey would be their lifeline now, since the sale of groundnut paste has gone down. To their dismay, honey supplies from the villages soon dried up either due to fear by the suppliers or lack of transport.

“Our suppliers who are all from the villages told us that they can not come to town now because they fear to contract the Coronavirus,” she said.

Florence Angom, a single mother of five, said that in addition to low sales, clients now offer them very low prices, aware of their desperation to make sales.  

“A few hours ago, a client of took a container of Odii worth 15,000 shillings and gave me only 10,000 shillings,” Angom said.

“I accepted the unfair deal because I had not sold anything the whole morning and I am sure that is the only money I will make today,” she said. 

Grace Akidi, a businesswoman who often bought groundnut paste from the same market, said she has also stopped buying odii from that market, saying her children will now make the groundnut paste at home.

“They have a lot of free time on their hands now that they are at home” she said. 

When the two-week ban on public transport was announced, Uganda had only registered nine cases. Currently the number of cases has jumped to 52. 

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