Recent initiatives in the Pacific prove we can find a street trading relationship that is a win-win for everyone.
The ‘informal’ economy continues to expand here in the Pacific. For example, recent research has found that as more people shake the delusion that being a buai trader is socially unacceptable, urban Papua New Guineans are quitting their 9-5 jobs to get in on the ‘green gold’ business. They soon realise the buai trade offers more lucrative prospects and better social security than the so-called ‘formal’ economy.
The expansion of self-employed trade can be seen as a positive, given the unparalleled economic advantages of this economy: it keeps prices down, and the income generated (based on using home-grown resources and capital) stays in our country and communities.
But, as this economy expands, the market infrastructure struggles to accommodate its growth, resulting in more litter and overcrowded markets (as we examined in this post last week).
However, recognising the vital role of these entrepreneurs in our communities can go a long way to solving those issues, as recent initiatives in the Pacific have shown.
In the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, new ideas are helping to make markets safer and cleaner, for the traders and customers.
A new program by the Rakiraki Town Council aims to improve the financial skills of women vendors – how to budget, keep accounts, customer service, and so on.
Meanwhile the municipality of Ba, Fiji is showing that supporting and respecting our traders is in the best interest of consumers as well. Ba provides kitchens, toilets, showers, and safe low-cost places for women vendors and their children to sleep. In addition, “a learning and handicraft centre is helping to train and diversify traders’ skills and increase their incomes”, resulting in more diversity and choice for consumers and tourists.
These initiatives could turn out to be an economic and cultural boon for these progressive island nations. In what’s being touted as ‘the future of the economy’, government support for Durban, South Africa’s self-employed traders has resulted in one of the most successful duel economic and tourism ventures in the country.
It seems likely the People’s Economy will continue to grow and thrive throughout the Pacific. Oppressing and removing markets is therefore unlikely to solve the perceived ‘problem’ of markets: and will also result in the Pacific missing out on capitalising on arguably its most prospective economy.
With adequate government and community support for the Pacific’s most vital trade, we can clean-up our cities and promote and improve the sustainable, diverse, and lucrative People’s Economy that has sustained our peoples and our ways for 50,000 years.
* Watch: Making marketplaces safer in Fiji