Saturday, July 09, 2011

Morocco's Increase in Street Vendors

In the aftermath of the bombing in Marrakech and uncertainty caused by the unrest in North Africa, tourist numbers have declined and the economy is suffering. Hardest hit are the small traders and many are selling whatever they can in order to feed their families. In Fez, Casablanca and Marrakech, this has resulted in an increase in the number of stalls and carts. This growth in the informal sector does not come without problems, as Hassan Benmehdi and Siham Ali, writing for Magharebia in Casablanca, report in an interesting article on the surge in street vendors in Morocco. Here is an edited extract...

Law-enforcement officers once confiscated street vendors' wares and forbade them from occupying public spaces. With the threat of arrest and loss of goods now gone, however, merchants have pushed their barrows into the busiest spots.

In Morocco, the situation is becoming critical.

"These traders have installed themselves along the alleyway beside the mosque, preventing motorists and pedestrians from passing," says Moussa, who lives in Casablanca's Oum Rabia I.

"After the vegetable sellers with their carts, the kitchen utensil sellers appeared on the square, and they were followed by the live chicken sellers, who even dare to slit their throats and pluck them on the spot, causing inconvenience for the neighbourhood," he tells Magharebia.

Photo - Hassan Benmehdi
The informal traders are also having an impact on local businesses. Si Arroube, a public-sector worker, says that ever since street vendors in Casablanca's Belvedere and Roches Noires districts began offering items at rock-bottom prices, some small shops have been forced to close.

"These mobile traders don't pay rent or municipal tax," he explains. "The small retailers can't survive the competition."

Ahmed Ktiri, an economist, agrees that the phenomenon of street vending is having negative repercussions on the formal sector, due to illegal competitive practices.

"The youngest people should be offered training, and at the same time, jobs offering acceptable and viable conditions should be found for them," he suggests.

It is more than just price wars. Hassan, who lives in the city centre of Casablanca, says that the streets are no longer as clean as they used to be. "The goods are inexpensive, but these carts are a nuisance," he tells Magharebia.

For unemployed young Moroccans, however, they provide an income.

The government recognises the urgent need for a solution. "We must accept that we now need a new approach to integrate these people better into the formal sector," Trade Minister Ahmed Reda Chami told legislators in May.

"We need to create and set up new markets and spaces, but we also need to involve other departments, such as the interior ministry, and local authorities," Chami said.

Economic Affairs Minister Nizar Baraka said that the Moroccan government is paying particular attention to the issue and that help is on the horizon: "The main thing is to bring about a transition from the informal to the formal sector, that's what needs to happen."

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Trade revealed that Morocco now has 238,000 street vendors, 90% of whom are men. And since some 70% of them never went beyond the primary level in school, their employment options are limited.

The government report's recommendations will be implemented soon, Trade Minister Chami said in June. The aim, he said, is to integrate street vendors into the formal sector in order to improve their standard of living.

Absorption and integration of the informal sector would reduce poverty and exclusion, agrees Abdeljalil Cherkaoui, the president of REMESS (the Moroccan Network for Solidarity and Social Economy).

Read the full article here: Magharebia

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