Symbiotic chicken supplies – food provisioning in Dar es Salaam

By Marc Wegerif. PhD Candidate, Rural Sociology Group Wageningen University. Marc Wegerif is carrying out research on food provisioning in Dar es Salaam.

Diagrams made by Jerryt Krombeen, a freelance designer and advisor working with own company ( on: design, urbanism, landscape architecture, and public space. Jerryt is completing his Masters at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture ( ) and joined a group of students in a project on planning for food markets in Dar es Salaam.

By Jerryt Krombeen  (

By Jerryt Krombeen

It is 5am, still dark, I am at the Shikilango people’s market in Dar es Salaam, a variety of vehicles are arriving and stopping in the street next to the market, the clucking of chickens fills the air. Motorbikes with two large woven baskets on the back, tied on top of each other, park. The baskets carrying up to 50 chickens each are arranged on the ground. Small Suzuki pick-up trucks and other vehicles with wood and wire frames on the back arrive with hundreds of chickens, the various buyers crowding around them as the morning business picks up and the sun begins to light the sky. Some customers are buying directly from the vans and motorbikes. Some of the butchers, identifiable in their white overalls and boots, are also buying direct from the vehicles to fill orders they already have. I watch the scene while sitting on a large rock on the edge of the road. The man sitting next to me on the rock is selling plastic bags of different sizes and cigarettes to customers and traders. Most of the people with the vans and motorbikes also have a stall in the market or cooperate with someone who does. The chickens not sold directly in the morning are transferred to the market and sold there through the rest of the day.

Under a high roof that covers a raised concrete platform there are thousands of chickens in lines of cages four levels high. The alley ways left between the cages are busy with people selling and buying chickens, negotiating or just talking. There is an alley at a lower level between the platform and six white tiled chicken slaughtering and cleaning areas that run along two sides of the platform.

Men in now blood splattered white coats fill the slaughter areas ending the lives of chicken after chicken and helping them off with their heads and feet before a few more quick flashes of sharp knives relieve the victims of their innards. Women sit on the ground or on some bricks cleaning the chicken intestines, heads and legs. Each of the six cleaning areas has a 200litre steel drum on top of a wood fire boiling the water used to clean the chickens and loosen the feathers for plucking. Steam mixes with the wood smoke to shroud the dead birds, dumped into the drums with their legs tied together in bundles. The butchers take turns to stir them with a long wooden pole and lift them out again for the plucking to begin.

The morning rush of deliveries was over, the slaughter was well underway, the chicken trading continued. I talked to the chicken sellers under the high roof, then to some of the men in the once white coats and later to women sitting with their buckets of heads and feet. I wanted to understand how this whole system works that takes in live chickens and churns out upwards of 6,000 slaughtered ones a day.

Many customers choose their live chickens from among the more than 50 cages and buy them from the chicken sellers. The customer can take the chicken with them and do what they want with it, but most have it killed and cleaned at the market and leave with something in a plastic bag a little bit closer in appearance to the chicken that most European chicken eaters carry out of supermarkets. If you want the head and feed and intestines as well then you will need to pay the man who does the killing and cleaning an extra 500 Tanzanian Shillings (Just under 25Euro Cents) for these bits. If you see those bits of the chicken as surplus to your requirements then don’t get tricked into paying for the slaughter, the killing and cleaning is free and you will still have the liver and gizzards. The chicken killer, of which there are more than 60 present on most days working from 5am to 6pm, will then make his money (yes they are all men) by selling the head, feet and intestines for between Tsh 300 and Tsh 500 a set to the dozens of women who buy these parts. Prices vary according to the size of the chickens and the ability of the women to negotiate. These women cook and sell these parts of the chicken in their normally poorer neighbourhoods of Dar es Salaam. One woman I spoke to buys 100 sets of head, feet and intestines at Tsh 300 a set every day. She seems to get a good deal from butchers she knows and perhaps due to the quantity she buys. She sells these cooked for 750 in total per set (300 per intestine, 150 per head and per foot) so a gross profit of about 45,000 (22.5 Euro) per day plus what she gets for four whole chickens she also buys at the market and sells. There are other costs that she has to cover from this, like Tsh 800 for transport on the daladala (small bus with regulated prices), but in a country where the minimum wage is Tsh 80,000 per month she would seem to be taking home a reasonable amount each day.

Kuku trade in Dar es Salaam by Jerryt Krombeen

Kuku trade in Dar es Salaam by Jerryt Krombeen

The market provides the space and the basic facilities around which the different actors, all individual or very small business operators perform their interconnected roles. The chicken seller pays Tsh15,000 (Euro7.50) per month for the space to put their chicken cages. The chicken killer pays Tsh1,500 (Euro 0.75) per day for the use of the slaughtering space. The woman buying and cleaning the intestines, heads and feet, pays Tsh300 (Euro 0.15) for her space for cleaning and with it the buying opportunity. These funds support the market cleaning, the security, and a part of it goes to the Municipality that has allocated this space to the market and arranges the bulk rubbish collection.

The young man in the dirty white coat I was chatting to says it is good work, most days he kills 50 to a 100 chickens, that is an income of up to Tsh50,000 (Euro 25), less the market rent of just Tsh 1,500 (Euro 0.75). By noon on the day I was there he had killed 15 chickens, so had already covered the day rent and had cleared Tsh 6,000, more than he would get for a day’s work on a commercial farm or as a security guard. The chicken seller I was speaking to had sold 94 chickens by that time and was running out of stock. With his mark up of between Tsh 300 and Tsh 500 per chicken, he was reluctant to give a definite figure; he has made some money and will have most of the rest of the day off. A woman I sat and talked with has still got to cook and make her sales, but is confident she will have enough money to feed her two children.

Later I ate lunch cooked by a woman with large pots on charcoal stoves next to the rough wooden tables where I sat. In the street two men lifted a large plastic bin onto the back of a motorbike. As the motorcyclist strapped it to the bike I went to find out what he was carrying. It was 70 freshly killed and cleaned chickens that he is being paid to transport to a restaurant. At the restaurant the chickens will be grilled, boiled in soup or fried to feed those customers. In the meantime women are cleaning the intestines of the same chickens and getting ready to take them to their own clients.

After lunch I went to some plots of land filled with green vegetables a few minutes’ walk from the market. I found a woman growing green vegetables on a plot about 300metre squared. At the edge of the plot she has piles of chicken manure that she buys from the chicken sellers in the market. When it has sat for enough time she spreads in on her small field. When she harvests once a month she sells some of her crop to stall-holders in the same market.

Back at the butchers a young man is bringing water for the steaming 200 litre barrels. He buys the water from the flats nearby, transporting it in plastic containers on a push cart and selling it to the butchers. Many of the residents in those flats are also customers in the market. Another person is bringing and selling firewood to heat the water.

All of the people in the chicken and related business are buying other food, cooked and uncooked, in the market, it is the place where they are spending a large part of their lives, working seven days most weeks.  My chicken seller, even after selling all his chickens stayed around the market, when I came back in the afternoon he was still sitting chatting with friends.

Along with being part of the overall market operation and individual entrepreneurs competing for customers and suppliers the actors are also involved in other layers of collaboration formal and informal.

Each of the six slaughter areas is run through the cooperation of 10 to 15 butchers. They share the 200 litre barrel of boiling water pooling money to buy the water and firewood and taking turns to look after the fire and stir the chickens.

The stall holders under the large roof pooled their resources to build the structure and all contribute to its upkeep, in addition to the contributions they make to the overall market operation, such as paying for the security guards and cleaners.

There is no vertically integrated food company here or at any of the dozens of other such people’s markets in Dar es Salaam. Instead there are a multitude of different actors linked in complex patterns of different interdependent relationships.

6 thoughts on “Symbiotic chicken supplies – food provisioning in Dar es Salaam

  1. This is interesting and it is a lot more profitable for it employs more people whose `salary` is not fixed as in minimum wage set by the government and strictly observed (sic) by corporations. So they stand to earn a fluctuating but reasonable income. That used to be the case with fish in lake Victoria until when large corporations ventured into that business in 1999-2001 and displaced so many people especially women.

  2. Informative article! The role of gender as featured in the different actions of men and women appears to be very crucial in food provisioning in this context. This articles opens up more investigation on how this role can be mainstreamed for sustainable food systems (institutions and physical infrastructure). For example, it would be interesting to know how marketpaces are designed or appropriated to reflect the varying gender aspects. This can inform actors in provision of appropriate places for food systems that enhance the local (social) practices while promoting economic development.

  3. @Dastan, yes the incomes are quite good in the Tz context and people have a lot of autonomy in the control of their work. There are of course some hierarchies and the gender ones are well worth exploring more, as you say Daniel. There is a very clear gender division of roles, the full impact of these, and what creates and re-enforces these needs more work to fully understand. The women in this system, are generally at a a lower level, in the food chain (creating business out of the bits of chicken rejected by others) and literally lower as they sit in the ally way. Perhaps that is something that planning could address. Would it impact on the social and economic relations?

  4. Great blog entry, Mark! I was struck by how efficient the system is:
    – Organisationally, the butchers organising themselves and pooling funds for equipment
    – Environmentally, the women buying up the less desirable parts of the chicken; and the nearby greens farmer using chicken manure
    – In terms of labour and incomes, allowing lots of people to live off the chicken trade.
    All of these are great contrasts to Western industrial chicken farm systems – mass production, mass slaughter, low workers’ rights, environmental disaster, inefficiencies at every turn.
    The part about the scalding bath sounds as hideous as the industrial version though – a soup of bacteria that gets absorbed into the chicken flesh?
    I’m also interested in the people who delivered the live chickens. Were they from small private producers – backyard, medium, or industrial scale? Was it ‘kuku wa kienyeji’ or industrial chicken?
    Did you try any fried chicken intestines?
    Keep up the good work Mark!

  5. Hi Linda,
    A lot of the sights are pretty grim. I am not sure the health impact of the chickens in the barrel of very hot water. Something to explore. They are slaughtered first of course with the traditional slitting of throat. The hot water may assist the hygiene. They do not stay in the barrel for long. The chickens lifted out in bunches tied together and thrown on the floor didn’t look too good. There are ways it could be improved, but of good in it to build on.
    A positive from a health and hygiene point of view is how fresh the chickens are. They are going from live to cooked and eaten in a day, that must help.
    The chickens are mostly the commercial broilers, just a few ya kienyeji. Have not traced the origins of all the chickens, but the suppliers I spoke to were from small scale operations, max a few thousands birds, including backyard places.
    I love chicken intestines.

  6. Great blog, Marc. “Disruptive Innovation” indeed by this amorphous entity called “informal sector” which we talked about at the BICAS Conference I am keen to hear more about your research, and I like the knowledge systems angle and artwork! you are using. An exciting and pioneering PhD in the making. You might be interested in Rauri Alcock’s work on the importance of the goat economy in Msinga, KZN. I will send you his email. Regards, Monique Salomon

Comments are closed.