The once famous Taveta Market, which served thousands of traders from Kenya and Tanzania is on its knees, thanks to a bad road that has made access to the border town a nightmare.
Farmers and traders are now incurring huge losses as their fresh agricultural produce goes to waste due to the dilapidated state of the Voi-Mwatate-Taveta road.
During its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, the market was both popular and vibrant, thanks to easy access by road and railway.
Kenya Railways has since withdrawn its rail service to the area, leaving residents at the mercy of the wasteful road.
Taita-Taveta County has huge potential to produce sufficient grains and horticultural crops for the entire Coast region and beyond.
This is largely due to the availability of adequate underground water from the snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro and Pare hills.
But even though the area residents and their counterparts across the border have been experiencing bumper harvests, lack of ready market for their produce has been discouraging.
“In the past, traders used to travel from as far as Eldoret, Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa and even parts of Tanzania to attend our market days, but that is no longer the case due to the poor state of the road,” Taveta Town Clerk Mohammed Rashid said.
He said a new modern market that is under construction will only be productive if the road is repaired.
The market, funded by the government to the tune of Sh350 million, is set to be opened in April, the Town Clerk said.
It comes complete with a drainage system, a bus park and other amenities.
“This is a regional market for millions of people from Tanzanian and Kenyan, but we hope that the Mwatate-Taveta road will be rehabilitated soon,” Mr Rashid said.
The council is also seeking alternative means of transport and is negotiating with the Kenya Airports Authority to build a three-kilometre runway in the town.
Mr John Mwadime, a veteran trader who has run his business in the market for more than 20 years, said sales have been declining over the years.
Mr Mwadime said that less than 10 buses from Mombasa and other parts of the country ferry traders to the market compared to more than 25 in the past.
“Very few business people are willing to use their trucks and buses to ferry goods and people to and from Taveta because of the bad road,” he said.
Ms Virginia Mwaliko, a trader, said that despite raising the issue with the government and political leaders, no action has been taken.
“Since Kenya Railways withdrew its rail service, the situation in Taveta has become worse,” Ms Mwaliko said.
In the past five years, traders in Mombasa have confessed making huge loses after retailers in different markets, such as Kongowea and Marikiti, opted to buy their goods from Nairobi and other areas due to high transport costs.
“It is easier to travel to Nairobi for my goods because it is not tiresome compared to Taveta,” a trader in Marikiti market in Mombasa, Mr John Karisa, said.
When the Nation visited Taveta recently, it encountered several vehicles parked by the roadside after breaking down.
Apart from the town, the road also serves the Tsavo East National Park, which covers more than 60 per cent of Taita, and which contributes millions of shillings to the government in revenue.
Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and Sarova Saltlick Game Lodge manager Willie Mwadilo said the road is the biggest challenge facing tourism in the area.
“Despite having different species of animals in Tsavo East, the number of tourists visiting the area is small because of the infrastructure,” he said.
For years, local residents, traders, transporters and tourism stakeholders have been pushing the government to repair the 80-kilometre Mwatate-Taveta-Tanzania road, which was built by the colonial government.
Source: Daily Nation