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June 14, 2021
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Street Vending: Surviving in Urban Papua New Guinea

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From settlements to the city streets, street vending has been on an increase in Papua New Guinea lately, and only the vendors know why they are doing what they are doing.

Whilst the formal sector has slowed downed due to economic circumstances, a healthy growth is seen in the informal sector with the increase in street vending.

EMTV Online recently carried out a quick survey on why there has been a hike in the street vending in PNG’s capital city, Port Moresby, and comparatively, has street vending been seen in the past.

Few people who have been living in the early years after Independence told EMTV Online that street vending never existed,as people do buying and selling only at prescribed locations.

“From what I remember everybody only sold within their premises and at assigned markets,” Bobby Jones told EMTV Online.

Bobby also thinks street vending is the result of an influx of vagrants competing for the same space as the locals. He said this is a direct result of members of parliament from rural areas not developing their respective electorates and as a result vagrants have followed public services to the towns and cities.

Others think street vending is a concept brought in from Asian countries by the influx of Asians into the country.

“There was no street vending back then. This is an Asian concept as there is an influx of them now.” Emp Pai said.

Street vending is an important component of the informal sector, and is one of the livelihood activities of nearly every household in the country. It is seen carried out in either prescribed or unprescribed areas such as streets, roadsides, in front of supermarkets or offices, at bus stops, in yards of homes, along the fences, and through traffic, a common sight in the hustle and bustle of Port Moresby.

A female street vendor near the Telikom Rumana area of Waigani Government Offices, who wanted to remain anonymous,said even though her husband is employed as an accountant of a company, she is involved in street vending to help his husband meet customary and tribal obligations like bride price, compensation and deaths. Her other reason was to improve the family income threshhold to take care of daily living costs in the city.

“Na mipla kam wantaim kastom na culture so taim papa em wok, ol lain long ples ol i save igat high expectation long taim blo hevi”. (We are still tied to our customs; hence our people have high expectations in times of finacial need since my husband is working). “Every daily living blo mipla, we need money. Ino ples na bai yumi kisim kaikai long garden.” (We need money daily for the living costs in Port Moresby, unlike in the villages; we no longer depend on free food from the gardens).

Another female vendor said, she is here because her husband is working in the city and as an uneducated wife, this is what she does to support him and contribute to the family income. She said, there is no reason for her to leave the city to live in the village as many suggest.

Being supported by rural-urban migration and unemployment, street vending continues to climb in Papua New Guinea’s urban centres.

A street vendor’s set up, or more popularly known as,”table market”, would include a sturdy table built from carefully select scrap wood; table covers made from bright pieces of floral-themed cloth, unused vinyl floor mat shards or a cut-in-the-middle 10 kilogram rice bag; and quick skills of change calculation with the charisma to hold conversation. The items mainly sold are betel nut, lime, mustard, cigarettes, store goods and cooked food.

Many vendors interviewed responded with similar sentiments saying street vending sustains their livelihood in the city.

The street vendors whilst reporting cases of harassment and assault by police and city management, call on the relevant authorities to look into and support microbusinesses that sustains the livelihoods of people like them. They also urge policy makers to make regulations that will control and protect the interests of urban street vendors.

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