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Efforts by various stakeholders to boost the manufacturing sector have enabled many Kenyans acquire skills and created a source of income for thousands who were previously jobless.
Kenya is an agriculture-based economy and manufacturing has mostly taken the form of agro-processing and adding value to crops.
Kitui, Kisii, Taita Taveta and Makueni are some of the counties that have set up factories for their residents. Some counties, however, have ventured into non-agriculture based manufacturing, such as clothes making and are doing well.
Kitui County, for instance, has ventured into both cloth making and honey processing, helping improve the lives of its residents.
Kitui County Textile Centre (Kicotec), a cloth making plant established in 2018 by the county government, has created 400 jobs. The factory’s Production Manager, Mbuvi Mbathi, says they employed about 10 people from each of the 40 wards in Kitui county.
About 70 per cent of the workers are female while the rest 30 per cent are male, which helps address gender imbalance.
“This facility will serve our children and their children. It has improved the economy. People have now developed plots within Syongila Ward, thanks to this factory,” Mbathi said.
Located in Syongila in the outskirts of Kitui Town, the plant has the capacity to produce 3,600 school uniforms a day.
The factory was recently awarded a tender by the national government to produce uniforms for chiefs in the country. So far it has delivered two batches, with one more to go.
Hillary Mwendwa, a physically challenged tailor at the factory, says he now works from near his home after unsuccessfully trying his luck in Nairobi for nine years.
“I had never entered a bank before I got this job. These days I walk into a bank every month and tell them to give me what’s mine,” Mwendwa said.
The tailor lives at his rural home where he has also started farming. “I don’t use a matatu to town; I just ride my wheelchair to and from work,” he added.
Steven Mwangangi, 26, from Miambani Ward, says the textile factory took him for training before offering him a job as a garment cutter.
He hopes to use his salary to sponsor himself through university, having completed his Form Four education in 2013. He scored grade B- in KCSE.
And just like Mwangangi, Mercy Mwende from Matinyani Ward was taken to Nakuru for training before being employed as a tailor.
“We now earn more than Sh10,000 a month and I can use the skills learnt here even after retirement. Even the children of single mothers who work here no longer sleep hungry,” she said.
Sarah Mbuvi from Sombe, Mtito sells cooked food outside the factory gates. Before that she used to sell vegetables at Sombe market for a living but switched when she realised the factory offered her a more lucrative market.
She sells muthokoi at Sh30 a plate, pilau at Sh30 and chapati at Sh10 each, earning about Sh1,000 a day. This is higher than the Sh600 a day she used to make selling vegetables. “ I don’t have to wake up at dawn to source for supplies like before,” she said.
In the same county, a farmers’ cooperative society is generating income from honey. Kamaki Farmers Cooperative Society is making about Sh400,000 a month processing and selling honey, according to its chairman, Eutichus Kyungu.
Started in 2013 by 40 members, the group has since grown to 356 members after attracting others from five locations near the Tsavo East National Park— Kalivu, Malama, Athi, Kasaala and Ikutha.
The members are paid weekly, receiving between Sh200 and Sh250 for a kilogramme of comb honey, depending on quality.
After processing, the honey is sold to local supermarkets at Sh700 a kilo and the profits distributed to members as dividends.
“We used to sell our honey to brokers at Sh40 per kilo; now Kamaki pays as high as Sh250 per kilo,” says Mutambugi Kitili, a resident of Mwambani Village.
Kitili, a retired railway technician, has 28 beehives— six modern ones and 22 traditional ones from which he harvests on average of 25kg per beehive. Earnings from the venture have enabled him educate his children and retire comfortably.
In South Nyanza, Kisii county is setting up a Sh170 million banana-processing factory (co-funded by the European Union) in an a region where the fruit is abundant.
John Abuga, a banana vendor from Keroka who plies his trade at Keumbu Market, hopes the factory will help stabilise banana prices in the region by preventing oversupply in local markets during the high season.
Like Moraa, Justin Mogire, a motorcycle rider from Nyasibabo, Nyaribari Chache is confident he will be hired to ferry bananas from the farms to the factory. He charges between Sh10 and Sh50 per bunch depending on the distance.
There are similar plans for construction of a banana-processing factory in Taita Taveta county. According to the contractor, John Musuya, work at the Sh45 million structure began in July and should be finalised by February 2020 after heavy rains pounding the area frustrated a December 2019 deadline.
Titus Masila, 65, a banana seller at Makindu town, eagerly awaits completion of the factory. “When I began this business, they told me it was a woman’s job. What others seek in towns (money), I get it here selling bananas,” said Masila.
Kisali Godfrey from King’wareni, Taveta, regrets that the Taveta market has too many sellers and not enough buyers due its close proximity to the banana growing zones of Tanzania. She hopes the new factory will provide a bigger market for farmers and traders.
In Nyandarua county, a group of local investors has set up a factory to add value to potatoes, resulting in better earnings and a ready market for the local farmers.
Engineer Foods Processing Company buys potatoes from farmers, peels them then packages them for sale in bulk to local restaurants.
The firm assists local farmers acquire the required seed varieties and to observe market standards to enable their produce fetch good prices.
In Makueni County, the regional government has helped set up two factories, one producing mango puree and another one processing milk. Kikima Dairy and Kalamba Fruit Processing plants have helped stabilise prices in the region and created a market for local produce, resulting in more jobs.
Under the government’s Big Four Agenda launched in 2017, Kenya plans to expand manufacturing sector to create jobs and produce better quality goods.
The pillar lays special emphasis on the blue economy, agro-processing, leather and textile industries as the key drivers of manufacturing growth in the country.