Chwele Market is one of the Fastest growing open air markets in East Africa as the result of its role for marketing agricultural produce harvested from rich volcanic soils in Mt. Elgon and produce of other East African states especially Uganda and Sudan.
The Market is the second largest open air Market in Kenya after Karatina.The majority of its inhabitants are the Bukusu community and there are also growing populations of the Saboat, Tesos, Luos, Kisiis, Kamba, Meru and even the Kikuyus.
The Market has led to the development of education centres as many businesses opt to settle there to do business hence taking their children to nearby schools such as Chwele Girls, Namwela Secondary school, Sikukusi High School, Chebukaka Girls, Teremi High School among others.
Ben Wanyonyi , The Chairman of Chwele Business community said that the upcoming town was established as a market in 1941 by 3 businessmen who formed social groups as vehicles of investment and through the defunct Bungoma county council acquired plots for developing shops at Chwele as a group of three.
“The Market developed quickly as a result of natives allowing outsiders to integrate business wise with them without discrimination,” Wanyonyi narrated.
It developed quickly after the stagnation of Cheptais Market in Mt. Elgon when farmers and businessmen migrated to safer places in Bungoma Town due to ethnic clashes that led to the loss of lives and property in the 90s.
Chwele Geographical position is next to the rich volcanic soils of Mt. Elgon has made it possible for farmers to easily market their produce to buyers who come from as far as Eastern Uganda, Eldoret, Nakuru, Mombasa, Lodwar and Sudan to buy their agricultural produce with ease at the open market.
However, ironically the Market being the largest source of revenue for Bungoma County Government, lacks integral infrastructure such as banks and roads which plays a vital role in the development of the market.
“We need the government to provide the security for our goods, the market is too muddy, so when it rains and most importantly there is no bank, if I want to cash out my Cheque I have to travel all the way to Bungoma town which is costly,” Catherine Naliaka explained.
Catherine has been doing business at Chwele market since 1992, she said that the business has been feeding and schooling his children even after his husband died, she pleaded with the county Government to change the management of the market to put it to its standard.
There are many markets which have not yet been recognized but they are in good condition, Chwele market having a good reputation of providing diverse land has no infrastructural development.
Carolyne Wanjala, who sells cabbages, blamed the County Government for staying many years without a modern market.
“The town has no physical planning, poor drainage system and poorly maintained roads, we just have a field and not a modern market. Why should we pay tax?” Wanjala lamented.
She said piped water has been a dream and faulted the County government for failing to equip the Chwele sub county Hospital to handle the growing population.
“There is no minor surgery and X-ray, when you need referral services you are directed to private hospitals around all to Bungoma Referral Hospital 20km from Chwele, Wanjala said.
Wakoli Kennedy, who has been supplying milk since 2005, receives 300 litres of milk daily and he supplies to schools around Chwele like Teremi Boys he has supplied since 2008 every Sunday, He also supplies 40 litres to Kimilili Boys.
However, wakoli says that due to poor roads he undergo losses when the milk spilled on the road while supplying using motorbike.
“The Business is doing great though we face challenges such as poor infrastructure like roads, also after supplying my milk to schools I am being paid using cheques and have to travel all the way to Bungoma Town to cash out my cheque,” said Wakoli.
The Chairman said that the total volume of goods and services traded weekly is estimated to be about Ksh. 250 Million which translates to an annual turnover of Ksh. 13 billion which he argues that Chwele is not a small market.
“Some of the areas that have downgraded Chwele Market include insufficient warehouses, lack of refrigerated storage facilities for perishable goods, insufficient water, lack of processing facilities and lack of access to market information. When we improve all these then we will have a multi-tier regional market,” The Chairman explained.