Columnists

Perfect time for vendor training

MARGARET samulela.

Analysis: MARGARET SAMULELA
THE outpouring of goodwill towards efforts to eradicate cholera and restore sanity in the affected areas has been impressive.

Several organisations have donated cleaning products: refuse bins, protective wear and the much- needed chlorine to help eradicate the epidemic so that business can go back to normal. Most of these organisations have also donated funds, which are meant to cater for costs being incurred during the whole process.
While this process is ongoing, and is highly commendable, I wish to propose another vital element that can add value to the whole exercise. This is training of street vendors in areas through which they can legalise, diversify and grow their businesses. There are several organisations which specialise in entrepreneurial skills that could offer such trainings for free as a contribution to improving the business environment of the country.
Most of the traders on the streets are women who carry their children along due to lack of caregivers at home. For many women, this vending is considered an extension of their reproductive and domestic role. And so they are willing to risk it all and toil all day so that they could earn enough to cater for the following day’s orders and meals for the family. However, many of these have dreams, big dreams to grow, provide and educate their children to a level where their offspring will never have to earn from the streets. And with the right training, many, with aspirations to grow their businesses and create a brand for their products, could benefit from financial and business knowledge that they could otherwise not be able to afford.
Some vendors have decided to change from trading in goods that are high-risk (these include foodstuffs such as vegetables and fruits) to those that have less risk such as clothing and other products. However, without any improvement in the level of knowledge of the new trade they are about to engage in, many are likely to fail, and they may return to what they know best, no matter how risky it is. It would therefore be prudent for organisations with the perfect know-how to take this opportunity to offer knowledge that will enable them to make the swap with better planning and more confidence.
Street vending is viewed by many as an economic activity for those with a low level of education. But what the cholera outbreak has taught us is that, if it is left without interventions, the negative effects will spread out and affect the whole nation.
The training I am suggesting could include assistance with regard to business registration, opening companies, tax remittances and branding of businesses, among other things.
Firms like the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) and the National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA) should use this transition period to offer training to the vendors.
Many traders prefer being on the streets because they presume that things will sell faster as the potential clients use that route all the time. However, what they do not realise is that with the right branding for their products, potential clients are likely to follow them wherever they will be.
The informal sector, no doubt, creates myriad opportunities to earn money, but these can be made better and the business can grow bigger once trade is made formal and a few steps taken to ensure a market is available for the product.
Street vendors are an integral part of urban economies around the world, offering easy access to a wide range of goods and services in public spaces. They sell everything from fresh vegetables to prepared foods, from building materials to garments and crafts, from electrical appliances, auto repairs to haircuts.
It is therefore important that, while planning of markets and other trading places takes place, stakeholders engage the vendors at each stage to ensure that they are part of the plans to make them relevant to the current economic and social needs of the people.
Though it is a fact that completely eradicating street vending may be a far cry, I believe that training and upgrading the vendors may be a more feasible exercise which will result in an orderly and sustainable way to trading. After all street trade also adds vibrancy to urban life, and in many places it is considered a cornerstone of historical and cultural heritage.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail sub-editor.

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