Where supply and demand meet: how consumer and vendor interactions create a market, a Nigerian example

Traditional food markets in lower-income countries are constructed through the interactions of their participants: those who sell food and those who buy it. Their joint actions and motivations interact to determine what is sold, to whom, and at which price; these actions are shaped by interpersonal relationships and cultural norms. Understanding these dynamics is useful for crafting equitable and impactful policies and program interventions that leverage, rather than oppose, market actors’ initial motivations. This paper examines this process of “making a market” through a case study of vendors and consumers in Birnin Kebbi, Nigeria. It answers four interrelated research questions through a series of in-depth interviews with consumers (n=47) and vendors (n=37) using methods drawn from focused ethnography. The results demonstrate that market transactions are influenced by a complex interaction of vendors’ norms on competition and collaboration, consumers’ needs for credit amid unpredictable prices and restrictive gender norms, and a “moral economy” that appears to guide market actors’ behavior. Based on this, it is suggested that the conceptualization of which characteristics shape consumer choices within food environments should be broadened to include factors such as credit access and bargaining ability, and the trusted interpersonal relationships that enable them.