Informal markets          

Model stories informal markets

Informal markets

Informal market stalls are a common sight in crowded public spaces or at the roadside. Such stalls might sell anything — from vegetables grown in a nearby garden, to meat products or aromatic smoked fish of unknown origin. While people are aware it’s not safe to buy from such markets, as there’s no way of knowing where the vegetables were grown or where the fish come from, they buy anyway, perhaps to support an old lady by purchasing a bunch of dill, or because products are cheaper there than in the shop, or because nowhere else sells mushrooms or blueberries that come straight from the forest.

The state services responsible for order, legal compliance and public health try to suppress such informal markets. However, as soon as the lilies-of-the-valley blossom or the blueberries ripen, people selling forest products set up stall along the nearest highways, and villagers bring seasonal fruits and vegetables, honey, milk and many other products to sell.

Discuss the possible conflicts and solutions, as well as the views of different stakeholders. How do you think the problem can be solved?


Conflicting interests

Attempts to stop such informal trade are accompanied by permanent conflicts. In keeping with the regulations in force, the police disband such markets, although this does not prevent traders from returning once the police have gone. There are always people ready and willing to buy fresh products, who sometimes even defend street traders from the police. During blueberry season, there may even be criminal incidents along roads near forests where blueberries are harvested, as traders fight for the most favourable locations. Criminal gangs may even take goods from the stalls in order to sell them for themselves at a higher price.


Possible solutions
  • Awareness-raising campaigns could be targeted at potential customers, to explain the risks involved when buying products from unofficial markets, especially meat, fish and milk products. People should be informed about the damage caused by the uncontrolled harvesting of berries, medicinal plants and other forest products.
  • Small, local (seasonal) markets could be established, controlled by the sanitary and environmental services, and where reasonable fees are asked for renting a market stall.
  • Organised, seasonal markets selling farm products that have been inspected by the relevant services could be promoted. Road signs and advertisement boards could be set up so that customers can easily find them; signposts and information boards could be installed in popular places; and excursions to farms could be organised.
  • Fresh products could be delivered directly from the farmer to the consumer.
  • The sale of food products could be banned in dangerous places (near roads, for example), and the enforcement of the ban monitored.
  • The sale of wild growing plants could be strictly controlled, and people selling endangered plant species could be identified.
  • Mushroom/berry trails could be developed, fishing days could be organised combined with awareness raising and environmental education, and members of local communities could be engaged in organisation and supervision.

Varying viewpoints

Traders are trying to earn as much money as possible, typically through sales of seasonal products. For many, this is the only source of income, so they are not concerned about nature protection or public health. They do not have stalls at established markets, as they are unwilling to pay the official (and unofficial) duties and taxes — partly because they typically have very small quantities of produce to sell.

Local authorities
The administration and the sanitary and epidemiological services have a responsibility to eliminate illegal trade and threats to public health. They inspect the markets, request the involvement of the police, disperse illegal traders, and try to impose a ban on the basis of the regulations in force. Educational events for consumers are organised very rarely, and local communities are not involved.

People want to buy fresh products direct from the field or forest, at a low price. They typically do not understand the hazards related to these products, and are given little information about the possible risks. People are in fact creating a demand for these dangerous products, and facilitating illegal trade. Without sufficient information, consumers are unwilling to look for an alternative to the informal markets.

Environmentalists oppose the informal markets, as there is no control over the products. Low-quality, contaminated products that are harmful to health, as well as endangered species, may end up being sold at such markets. Environmentalists can organise awareness-raising campaigns, and can cooperate with local communities to organise the collection of mushrooms or berries in an appropriate way (for example through mushroom hikes or the picking of small amounts of wild herbs).