Over 1,000 traders have deserted the newly gazetted charcoal market in Sofia village, Eastern division of Busia Municipality. On August 16, 2020, Busia district authorities allocated 2.9-acres of land that was hosting Sofia Market to the Ministry of Health for the expansion of the Port health facility.
As a result, the authorities relocated traders, who were operating in the area to Arubaine market in Arubaine village. The authorities also moved over 2000 traders involved in the booming charcoal business from the no man’s land to one and a half acre piece of land within Sofia village.
However, the traders say the re-location of their businesses and the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic disorganized everything. This prompted some of the traders to leave the market, saying Kenyan traders were no longer coming to the market.
Ishmael Bumali, the secretary Sofia charcoal traders say that 1,992 traders who were operating in the new market have shunned the business and scattered to different places within Busia town due to low demand and rampant operations by Uganda Revenue Authority- URA targeting them.
James Malinzi, the URA Region Manager, says their enforcement targets charcoal that illegally sold to Kenya through porous border points. Alex Oligo, who deserted the charcoal business, says he left after making a loss of 40 bags of charcoal that cost him Shillings 2 million to stock earlier in November 2020.
According to Oligo, he was expecting a profit of Shillings 400,000 if he had sold his charcoal to his clients from Kenya at Shillings 60,000 a bag. Faziira Namugaya, Faith Nakiyemba and Joan Mutesi among other traders, say business has continued to worsen ever since Kenyans stopped coming to the market. They say it takes over 3 weeks to sell off charcoal in the store despite reducing the price by 20 per cent.
A bag of charcoal now costs Shillings 40,000 from Shillings 40,000 while a basin costs Shillings 5000 from Shillings 7000. A packet of charcoal costs Shillings 500.
Beatrice Muwanguzi, another trader says that they are struggling with the charcoal business amidst the challenges to earn survival.