Friday, April 3, 2009

Market failure?

I visited Lagos' two biggest markets this week to get a better understanding of the interplay between market traders (who sell from stalls in designated markets) and street vendors (who sell from tables/carts/blankets/their own hands along the side of the road).

Boundary is a huge retail market in Ajegunle, one of Lagos' densest and poorest neighborhoods. Mile 12 is the wholesale market where foodstuffs coming down from the North are sold before being distributed all over the city. 700 tons of tomatoes move through Mile 12 every day. Imagine an area the size of a football field full of baskets like this: that is just the tomato section.

Everybody loves markets, myself included. They are like little villages, with grandma sleeping in the corner and kids running all around. And the prices are great -- at Mile 12 I paid a dollar for a huge sack of peppers and onions I'll be eating all week.

The problem is that markets are often presented as an easy alternative to street vending. This was done by Mayors LaGuardia and Giuliani in New York, and now it is being done by Governor Fashola of Lagos. And the idea does have some appeal. "Let's move these traders off the street and into markets, where they will have a roof over their heads and be able to lock up their merchandise at night." Sounds great, right?

But its never that simple. Invariably there is never enough space in the markets or the space is too expensive for the street traders, who are only on the street, after all, because they can't afford to rent stores.

And this seems to be the case in Lagos. For example, one of the market leaders at Boundary described an idyllic "open area" inside the market where anyone could sell their goods for 15 cents a day. I was enthralled. But when we got there, the tiny junction was crammed full. And when I asked a fish vendor there how she got her space, she said that her boss (one of the stall owners) had put her there. Not exactly what I had in mind!


  1. Hi Sean--Thanks for this--all of those tomatoes are making me hungry...That's the problem with these "designated areas," regardless of hteb usiness. They're rarely all they are sold as being, and there's often less freedom for individual entrepreneurs too.

    Also, we miss you!

    Hope you are having a wonderful time--Be safe--Juhu

  2. Miss you too, Juhu -- thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi Sean,if i were to ask you;what would you point out as the failure n the market system in Nigeria. oba ~banks