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Alaroro: Tales of Extreme Struggle For Survival By Scavenging Women



At the mention of scavenger, what readily comes to mind is the picture of a vulture or any other creature that feeds off dead organic matters or wastes. ISA BEST OMOREGBEJI writes that hungry women, mostly widows who can hardly put food on their table scavenge major markets in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs, especially the popular Orange Market in Mararaba for survival.

In the quest to earn an income for their survival and that of their families in this harsh economic situation, these female scavengers popularly known as ‘Alaroro’ enter the major whole sale fruits markets and dumpsites during the early part of the day, roving and looking for discarded rotten tomatoes, onions, pepper, oranges, carrots, popularly called ‘Bajeh’ in local parlance, resale them to waiting patronisers at very cheap rates, thereby making profits.

Customarily, waste bins or dump sites whether in the markets or home are considered the end points for wastes and are usually perceived as no-go areas for humans because of their foul and dirty nature. However, throughout the big cities in Nigeria such as Abuja and especially the fruit market a.k.a orange market in Nasarawa these dumpsites and waste bins are increasingly transforming into goldmines as these poor and shameless women and old men depend for their livelihood on what they gather at the dumpsites.

While it remains a fact that scavengers are not refuse workers and they are not concerned with waste management. They enter into the trade for socio-economic reasons, and their relationship with waste is as a resource, they only collect the materials for which there is a market to sell them.

Narrating the success story of how she makes a living for herself and sponsors her siblings and kids Mrs Unyamongyong Adie, a widow  said, “I pick up rotten tomato and pepper and Onions that litter the orange market, resell them to waiting customers  to make a living. Although, most people see the job as dirty, I am feeding my family from it”.

According to her, “There are several people the trade helps. “Waste recycling is a business that if you decide to go into it today, you are sure of making money. The fun of it is that you might even decide to start now with nothing and still make more money from the business,”

The’ Fruit Market’ popularly known as Orange Market, Mararaba is known for many things including the relatively cheap prices of food commodities as well as the freshness of all kinds of vegetables one could imagine. This popular market patronised by residents of the FCT and its environs has put food on the table of the very hungry who struggle extremely for survival through its recognition of the Alaroro system.

Alaroro is a Yoruba word translated as Stinginess or meanness. It is often used by the rich in the society to describe buyers of cheap and spoilt farm produce or items generally,  predominantly women who seek to buy cheap and undesirable, left over commodities with the hope of finding something edible or sellable in spite of the embarrassment. Most times Alaroro is used to refer to the poor and penniless people scavenging for whatever falls on the floors of the Market as buyers and sellers transact businesses.

On realising that  most operators of  eateries and restaurants, caterers and many other individuals in the food industry patronise this fruit scavengers, LEADERSHIP Sunday visited this famous market, spoke to some of the women who narrated their ordeal, success story as well as the embarrassment that greets them while carrying out the lucrative business and the designed structure .

Couch Mabo, a vegetable trader explained the structural divisions of the market saying, “first among the traders in the market is the Paleke – made up of traders or middlemen who bring these goods from farms or who travel with the goods from places like Jos, Maiduguri and other locations to the market. The Weze (wholesalers) who buy through middlemen stationed in the market called Delali (Agents). The Weze and Delali are predominantly men. Whereas, the Share-Share and the Keshi (helpers) under them are the labourers, mostly women who help wholesalers do the retailing and the selling.

He said,“Alaroro women are not one of us; they just come to pick what falls to the ground. They rarely buy from us; they are scavengers picking only the bad items. At times they help us do some shading and selling and at the end we give whatever is left of our sales to them at a very cheap rate. They are good and bad Alaroro, some of them can steal from the main stock and clean produce while claiming to be assisting, but it’s their way of surviving.

Mabo noted that the Alaroro women only buy the almost spoiled vegetables some of which they take home for food and to sell to augment for other household needs “. He said

A scavenger, Abubakar Abdul said, “The reason why I delved into the business is because I don’t have a job. As a poor man, there was no help from anywhere. I started scavenging since I was a bachelor and from the little money I’m making, I feed my family. It is not good if I sit at home doing nothing and allow hunger to destroy my family. I’m appealing to government to help us improve our living condition. Hunger is striking so hard despite all my efforts. I’ve a wife and six children and it is only from this picking of waste products that we feed. Sometimes, we will not have food to eat just because there is no money.” he said.

LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that in spite of their resolve to make ends meet through this garbage business, the operators yet face societal stigmatisation amidst other unfriendly attitudes. Narrating his ordeal, Abdul said people sometimes look at them as insane.

Wale Olofin, 30 said: “I started this business when I was 15 years old and since then, I’ve not recorded any tangible gain from it other than to feed. I desperately need a wife but no woman has ever agreed to marry me because of the nature of my job. I impregnated a girl with the aim of marrying her but she ran away with the notion that she can’t marry a scavenger. She even said we are not different from pigs,”Olofin lamented.

Madam Blessing,  an indigene of Egumale in Benue State commended the Alaroro System,  disclosing she survived from it during her trying period. Her words, “I was trading vegetables between Egumale and Otukpo. The highest I went was Makurdi, one day someone told me a particular vegetable called ‘Anhara’ was selling very well in Abuja, that I could make it big if I brought the vegetable from Egumale. I discussed it with my husband, he warned me but I thought it was my opportunity, so I travelled with very large quantity of the Anhara leaf to sell in Orange Market. I discovered the leaf was sold for just N100.

My dear, I realised I was deceived into taking that trip, whereas we use to sell it as high as N200 a bundle in Otukpo. I refused to sell believing the price will improve, but it was worse as the day passed by, the leafs depreciated so I sold them off at give-away price but was stranded. I started joining some group of women to do Alaroro, picking remains of other commodities that other traders brought to the market to resell, in a day I made up to N800 or even more. Many poor people and even some food vendors patronise us. This was how I gathered the fare back to the village.”

Mercy Ibrahim, who survives through the booming Alaroro business said, “I am from Anyigba local government of Kogi State; I am merely surviving by God’s Grace. I have five children, my husband is working for an Indomie company here in Abuja and they have not paid him for over 3 years. So I here daily to pick food items from this market to sell and have what to take care of my children. Like the Ugu’ vegetable you saw me picking, if am able to gather more than a hand full I will sell it, but from whatever I pick for the day, I usually reserve what we call ‘take away’. At times some strict marketers who envy our trade do not allow us pick. This sort of characters make bold to flog us with cane in a bid to scare to scare us. In spite of this humiliation, through our determination to stop our kids from dying of hunger ensure the pains but wipe in the secrets.

She said, rather than venture into prostitution or stealing, I rather come here to scavenge to survive. I cannot pay my children school fees as all of them have dropped out of school. Other women use to bring their own children here but I thought this is not the life I’m wishing my children so I don’t allow them come with me. As it is today, the poor is gradually being schemed out of our usual means of survival, as even the Alaroro women are now being made to register with N5000 each. The Union people claim they use the money to maintain the market. Some of our women who cannot afford to pay risk embarrassment if they continue to come to pick from the market. It is painful that the idea of registration was even started by some of us who thought it was necessary to reduce the number of Alaroro women in the market. For me it should have being left the way it was since the idea is to enable the poor survive”.

Precilia Peter, a widow who hails from Okporku Local government of Benue Stat lamented that she has four kids to carter for. She says, ‘I am jobless I lost my husband in 2013  aside having rent to pay in Aso B where I reside, I must confess that scavenging is not totally to the rescue.  It is not everybody that allow us pick from around their stands. We wake up as early as 4:00am and head to the market. If you’re lucky you’ll pick so much from the fruit and vegetable deport out of which you can sell some. I paid N5000 just to scavenge, yet some people will not even allow us pick from the ground but other good hearted one’s use to have pity on us and allow us pick.

She said, ‘One of the greatest challenge I face in carrying out this dirty but rewarding trade is language barrier. I don’t understand Hausa, if I go to pick in some locations in the market my inability to speak Hausa becomes a problem as they easily allow the Hausa speaking Alaroro to pick and send English speaking ones like me away. I must say that over 500 registered Alaroro women come to scavenge for what to survive on. Those who register can both pick and then sell, but if you’re not registered you cannot stay back to sell at the market”.

Ifesinachi Okorie from Ogu Local government of Enugu State lamented that after the death of her Husband the bread winner of the house. “My shop closed down and I was left to look elsewhere. I use to see some of my neighbours leaving the house very early and coming back very late. I got to know they do Alaroro business, so I joined them. The very first day, I made N100. I said to myself – the suffering was too much. I stayed back for two days and later resolved to resume Alaroro in full because of my situation, since then I have been coming to scavenge and whatever comes out of it I use it to feed my family”.

Mama Cynthia who runs a restaurant around the market said, “at times i patronise the Alaroro women because of the relatively give away price of their commodities. They can even supply me and come back the next day after I have made sales to collect their money. By the way, it is not all the goods that these women sell that are bad, we wash whatever we buy from Alaroro and it really help us cut down on production cost so we can sell very cheaply too. She said.

Disturbingly, though the Alaroro business has helped carter for the needs of many dying families, it has also raised severe health questions. A Nutritionist, Dr. Chinenye Okechukwu of the Federal Medical Centre in Mararaba, advised those who patronise them to ensure proper washing before consumption stressing that most of the vegetables bought may have fallen unhygienic places and may parade a very high level of bacteria contamination.

She warned that ‘It’s not just the scavengers that are at risk, healthwise but the customers too. This goes to explain the root causes of some illnesses and diseases like cholera, hepatitis and of course worms infestation in many patients. If people must patronise sources like this they need to rigorously wash and properly cook the foodstuffs to be sure all the germs are dead before consumption”. She said.

Mr Adamu Musa, Dealer’s General Secretary who spoke on behalf of Baba Aliyu Ibrahim Nana, the Market Chairman said “only God knows the number of people this market is sustaining, from the commercial motorcycle riders, to traders, to the Alaroro women and even himself. About the registration fee, it is not the market authority that imposed the fee on the Alaroro women but their unions. Even the union explained how they use the funds realised, sometimes they use to help themselves when any of their members is bereaved. Before the market was moved to this permanent site, we advised their unions to reduce the fee, it used to be as high as N15000. The market authority is aware of how significant the Alaroro system is, it gives poor women an opportunity to pick whatever they can pick and sell to survive in this hash economy.

The Alaroro women hope that someday fate will smile on them if government cut to size whatever structural development plans they have, to begin to look at the direction of providing relieve services and aids for the poor of the poorest of women who have dedicated themselves as sacrificial lamb for survive. Government could do more to offer the women better alternatives