Cooked food: Good for business, bad for health

David Minani, is a father of two and a resident of a slum in Nyarutarama. His house is located on a dusty road that leads to a small market where he has established a hangar with a plastic roof for his business.
Beans being prepared in one of the slums. (Séraphine Habimana)
Beans being prepared in one of the slums. (Séraphine Habimana)

David Minani, is a father of two and a resident of a slum in Nyarutarama. His house is located on a dusty road that leads to a small market where he has established a hangar with a plastic roof for his business. From the back corner to the entrance, this shed is packed with hundreds of charcoal bags, waiting for customers who buy. The smallest tin costs Rwf100 while a bag goes for Rwf 7,000.

In the same squeezed place are two small tables with a variety of vegetables – tomatoes, onions and cucumber among others.

Booming business

At the entrance near a water channel is a big cooking pot sitting on fire. And you need not guess its content because the aroma of beans on fire fills the whole neighbourhood.

“It is a well planned business. When I sell to someone a tin of charcoal, they also buy vegetables and cooked beans from me. People do not want to spend a lot of money cooking beans,” said Minani.

For the last two years, Minani has been doing this business — cooking at least 20kg of beans per day. He says he earns about Rwf 4,000 from beans alone. His unit price, otherwise known as “Me to You” is Rwf 150 for a container as big as a tea cup.

“I wish I could get cheaper beans. I would start cooking 50kg per day and convince the entire neighbourhood that they do not need to cook beans but to buy cooked ones from me,” he said.

But Minani is not the only person benefitting from the cooked beans business.

“For me the business is important because it makes ends meet. From here, I’m able to buy clothes and food for my child and aging mother,” said Jeanne d’Arc Mukandida, a single mother from Gitega slum, Nyarugenge district who sells both cooked maize and beans.

Mukandida, whose biggest market comprises masons and casual labourers commonly known as karani ngufu, makes a profit of Rwf 3,200 from the 4kg of beans and maize she prepares daily.

Saviour of the poor

This business started at a small scale in Biryogo and Rwezamenyo cells in Nyarugenge sector, Nyarugenge district ten years ago but has now spread across all the slums Kigali. The business that is dominated by women mainly targets low income earners.

Emmanuel Nzeyimana, a shoe maker, says he earns only Rwf 1,000 a day yet he is supposed to eat and save at least Rwf400. This leaves him with no option but to go for the cheapest food. 

“I eat one meal a day. I buy 1kg of Irish potatoes at Rwf 200, tomatoes at Rwf 100 and cooking oil at Rwf 50,” Nzeyimana explains. “I then buy a tin of charcoal at Rwf100 to cook the food and already prepared beans from Minani at Rwf 150. This method helps me spend save money and time.”

Good or harmful business?

While Minani’s vegetable and charcoal business is acceptable, city authorities have reservations about the cooked food sold in slums. Last month, a team in charge of hygiene from the City of Kigali (CoK) advised him to stop the beans business over ‘poor hygiene’.

According to Immaculée Mukashyaka, the in charge of hygiene and city beautification in CoK, selling of cooked food is not good for hygiene and the environment.

“A part from diseases related to unhygienic conditions in which they prepare this food, they use the banned plastic bags to pack the beans and maize. As if that’s not bad enough, they throw the leftovers on the roadside,” Mukashyaka says.

Emmanuel Irimaso, a graduate in public health, also expressed concern about this business. 

“It is risky because the poor hygiene leads to contamination of the food,” Irimaso says, adding that a consumer stands a high chance of suffering from cholera or diarrhoea. 

Edouard Munyamariza, the chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, observes that though good for the proprietors, the business is dangerous to consumers. 

“They may think they are getting cheap food but may end up in hospital,” Munyamariza says.

He encourages the private sector to be pro-active and start affordable food businesses whenever they see a big flow of people in an area than leaving it to the ordinary people.

According to the CoK, any person who wants to trade in cooked food should apply formally so that the local leaders can verify whether you meet all the requirements.

“Otherwise, selling cooked food is neither Rwandan culture nor a hygienically safe business,” argues  Mukashyaka.

 

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