Maitama Farmers' Market commissioned almost five years ago by the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar has become an addition to what Maitama offers as an affluent community in Abuja, but those who frequent the market dubbed it a melting pot of the city.
Maitama, a serene community in Abuja is known for its special attraction, but not only for its buildings that give structure to it, its farmers' market has become a melting pot where Nigerians and foreigners criss-cross for their farm fresh household needs.
Commissioned on Monday, 18th of June 2008 by one-time Minister of the FCT, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, the Maitama Farmers Market was immediately opened up for business with the sole aim of bringing such variety of fresh agricultural produce from the farmers' cultivation ground directly to the doorsteps of Maitama residents.
Following through reasons for its creation, the Modibbo-led FCT administration accordingly, had in a bit to continue and perhaps surpass its predecessor's efforts to keep up Abuja's verve and dynamism as a federal capital city, initiated the market which was a pilot scheme of a project to set up series of fruits and vegetable markets across Abuja's major districts, thus, encouraging healthy dietary lifestyle amongst its residents.
A market that is aptly located on Yedseram Crescent in the heart of the Maitama District, the Maitama Farmers' Market has since inception seemingly become a Mecca of sort to residents of and visitors to Maitama; its ever active but quiet ambience has actually proved to be one of its overriding strength against some of the other markets located within the FCT and this amongst other features thus makes it a preferred shopping destination for fresh veggies, fruits and other farm produce alike.
By its conception and location, the market in outlook could be considered as one of the few exclusive inventions of society's top-class, probably to keep them further apart from the ordinary people of the society.
Cited within the heart of the district and in-between residences of high profile government officials, top managers of conglomerates and Embassies, the market appears quite sophisticated as against the regular noisy and environmentally distressed markets across the city.
But, Alhaji Salisu Isah, who maintains a vibrant fruit and vegetable stall in the market says, "This is a physical retail market that has all sort of food sold directly to different classes of consumers. You can be a regular eater or a vegetarian, this market has what it takes to take care of your demands. This market consists of booths where fruits, vegetables, meats, and sometimes prepared foods and beverages are sold and it adds value to this community."
And what makes the Maitama Farmers' Market different from its ilks, What are some of the challenges that such market set-up pose to customers and operators? What varieties of farm produce are sold in the market and who can actually shop in Maitama Farmers' Market were some of the prodding questions that led THISDAY into conversation with stall owners and regular visitors to the market.
Overwhelming benefits to farmers, retailers and consumers
Isah told THISDAY that: "The farmers market can offer farmers opportunities such as increased profit through wholesales and then by retails directly to the consumers because the cost of transport, handling charges, refrigeration and storage time are almost eliminated in the process."
He disclosed that various farm produce are daily brought in by sellers at the Maitama Farmers' Market from different locations such as Zuba and Suleja in Niger state, Mararaba in Nasarawa state and sometimes Plateau and Benue states respectively.
According to him: "Selling in an outdoor market like this also comes with certain advantages to those of us that are here; the cost of land, buildings, lighting and air-conditioning is minimal when considered to setting up an independent stall.
Even though we have to make commitment towards maintaining the standard here, we do not pass the costs to our customers; our prices are fair to everyone and that is evident in the cordial relationship we have with customers and the smiling faces they wear each time they come here."
While listing benefits of the market to residents of Maitama, Isah noted that the market in some ways has helped to maintaining an important social tie by linking rural and urban dweller in a mutually rewarding exchange. He explained that the market has created a kind of distinction and uniqueness which has in turn increased its pride to encourage visitors to always return for their shopping.
Other traders at the market who spoke with THISDAY confirmed Isah's assertions. They said that the market has contributed to innovative distribution of fresh farm produce with fewer intermediaries but effective customer satisfaction.
"Consumers often prefer to shop here because what we sell is fresher and healthier. With the average price, you can get anything you want; fruits, vegetable, nuts, cereals and other types of foods. You saw me attend to a customer who would not want to come down from the car, those are some of what we do that keep them coming back and they are done at no extra cost to their pockets.
"The misgiving amongst certain people is that the market is for the rich but it is not, you can buy your apples fresh and clean here for the regular price you get it from anywhere in this city, and the same goes for other fruits and if there is going to be any difference for whatever reason, it will never be a killer price," said Ibrahim Memuna.
According to one regular shopper, Pamela Chizoba, the market has its rewards and shortcomings but she enthused: "the rewards outweigh the shortcomings."
Chizoba said: "This market is mostly for people that live in Maitama and of course you know the kind of people that live here. I often wonder what would have been the situation with the residents of Maitama if there was no such market like this here because, they would have to go all the way to the Wuse market which is the nearest to this place every time they want to have fresh fruits or veggies.
"Apart from the proximity which makes it a preferred location to shop for fresh farm produce and with all the comforts it offers, there is no issue of market touts and all sorts of traffic congestion here, it is just a drive in and shop with convenience system; There is no muddy or dirty environment to get you dirty and smelly after shopping."
When asked to compare prices of produce at the market with the other markets, Chizoba said: "The difference with some produce is usually not more than N50 or N100. A single of fruit juice is sold for N250 like any other place and in any way, if I pay N50 more to buy fresh and easy, why would I then go all the way to Wuse or other conventional markets where I have to spend so much time buying what I can ordinarily buy here. When I want to buy other hardcore goods, I can go to Wuse or others but for these ones, here should serve and it is really serving its purpose."
Good infrastructures to make shopping a delight
Traffic at the Maitama Farmers' Market is almost non-existent, just as security and clean environment is always top on the priority of its managers. Perhaps it's also a complement that the market is just some distance away from the official residence of Nigeria's Inspector General of Police (IGP), hence the tight security and traffic arrangement around the area; customers are also thoughtful in obeying parking rules around the market to avoid unnecessary congestion.
Isah told THISDAY that: "We have good parking area here where customers come in to park and shop. Our rule of engagement here is that we don't employ people with questionable characters and if we ever get to employ somebody who maybe has a smoking habit and we get to discover along the line, the ultimate price is expulsion and that has happened to a couple of people here, we don't have to protect such illicit act because it will definitely boomerang on us.
"You see, we want to be able to regulate our activities in order to keep the confidence of our customers. What will be the thought of a customer who comes in to buy from me and discovers that smoking is going on within my stall? No, we won't encourage such habit and have stuck to these rules since inception; we are not going to bend these rules to favour anybody."
He also disclosed that the market which officially opens by 7am and closes by 10pm is dominated by all tribes of Nigeria and has got an all-round patronage time except for certain hours within the day.
"We have here Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Igbira, Nupe and others that do business here; it is not exclusive to one tribe or sect. You cannot say that business is at its peak in this market at specific days of the week because we cannot keep tab on the volume of customers we record all throughout the week. The turnout is always massive from the beginning of the week to its end but there is usually a bit of lull in activities from 1.30pm to 3pm everyday and then the tempo picks up again from 3.30pm until 10pm when we close shop," he said. He added that the market has received massive goodwill from its neighbours due to its calm and refined nature which also adds to its growing popularity.
"You walk in here calmly and don't have to cover your nose to any foul smell, you can sit down if you want and you can stand or keep moving round without any fear of being molested. As a matter of fact the scent coming from our fresh fruits and vegetables will keep you in here without you knowing that you have spent more than the time you had planned to spend in the market. Again, there are no touting activities around here, people do not shout and exhibit all sorts of displeasing social acts because we have been able to maintain the standard we started with," he said looking in the direction of his next customer.