Obulala an Amani

Profile: Chwele Market in Sirisia, Bungoma

Chwele Market, Sirisia

By Isura Christopher, December 22 2010
Chwele is a town in Western Province of Kenya. The town is an agricultural marketing centre located between Kimilili and Bungoma.
The market is the major meeting point for farmers from the surrounding areas of Mt. Elgon, Namwela, Sirisia, Lurende and Chebukaka especially every Monday when there is a market day. The market is Kenya's second largest open air market and large quantities of maize, bananas, local vegetables as well as livestock such as chicken, goats, cattle and sheep are available for sale valued at more than Ksh10 million on peak days.

Sirisia is made up of Chwele, Malakisi, Nalondo and Sirisia divisions, and has the largest number of poor people, estimated by the Central Bureau of Statistics at 114,470. Sirisia and Malakisi were once famous for tobacco, cotton and coffee growing, but the collapse of the cotton subsector and low earnings from tobacco and coffee have largely contributed to poverty. The area is inhabited by the Bukusu people and there is a growing population of Saboats, Tesos and even Kikuyu’s. The area has rich black volcanic soils that are suitable for growing many crops with very good yields.

Chwele market pots
Chwele Market traders selling pots (chisongo)

It is as early as 3 O ’clock in the morning and the famous Chwele market is on its climax of business. You may stop to ask your way to Chwele when actually you will be in Chwele Market. More than a hundred loaded donkeys appears at the gate in a convoy and funny enough they sit down and wait for the main gate which is usually under close watch to be opened. One can actually tell that the donkeys are used to what they are doing since they are acting like they are on there own.

“The donkeys are from Mt.elgon regions and they are the most preferred means of transport since they are cheap and favorable to the poor terrain and roads in Mt. Elgon” on close inspection of what the donkeys were loaded with you will realize that there is a variety of goods which includes sacks of carrots, Irish potatoes, onions and peas. Surprisingly enough women and children are the major people behind donkeys and despite the cold they walk on bare foot without any thick cloth to add on. A larger percentage of people who start early there businesses in Chwele market are women.

Chwele Market
Aerial view of Chwele Market located between Kimilili and Bungoma.

 “Mt. Elgon is a major supplier of goods in the market” despite the state of insecurity in the region and most of the business persons in Chwele market are farmers from the region who have over years proved to be very good in farming.  Other regions which supply goods to the market is Trans-Nzoia which supplies tomatoes and West Pokot which supplies more than 150 cows in every market day to be sold.

The market day begins outside the gates of the market and at times some farmers sell there goods before paying the municipal council levy for entering the busy market to sell there goods. Business Brokers are all over the market and as early as the donkeys arrive from Mt. Elgon the best goods are bought and paid in cash to the farmer. By 5 am the market turns to life and the bare ground of Chwele town and which was empty earlier is full of clothes and other goods.

The cattle from West Pokot which are usually sold for meat purposes arrive and every item for sale is at its strategic place ready to be sold.

According to the Monthly Market Bulletin is produced by Market Information Branch, Agribusiness and Market  Development Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, the consumption of sweet potatoes has gained popularity in the recent past as  consumers move away from the refined foods to traditional foods due to the promotion of the traditional foods and their high nutritional benefits. As people become more health conscious, the trend in consumption of traditional foods including sweet potatoes is increasing.

 Chwele market reported the minimum price of Kshs 913 for the buyers who are mostly business persons from other regions usually buy goods in large quantities. The market attracts business men and women from all over western province and the whole country at large.

Source: Westfm

Kakamega County set to reap benefits of regional devolution

Kakamega Town

By our correspondent, Sept 18 2010
It has been billed the “Rainbow” county because of its strategic location in a region endowed with natural resources and enormous potential for agricultural production. Some liken Kakamega County to a giant finally awakening from a long slumber to unlock its potential after years of inertia. The county stands out for two reasons: its expansive size, covering nine constituencies, and a large population of 1.6 million people. The two factors, it is argued, could provide the impetus to stir economic growth and reverse the high poverty levels ravaging communities in the region. Constituencies in the county include Lugari, Malava, Shinyalu, Lurambi and Ikolomani. The rest are Mumias, Matungu, Khwisero and Butere.

The unexploited potential for agricultural production and the untapped western tourist circuit are expected to be a major catalyst for economic growth. They set the right climate for investors. Fresh prospecting for gold and other minerals by international firms is going on in Shinyalu and other parts of the county. If the firms stumble on substantial amounts of minerals in their hunt, that could add to the glitter of a promising future in terms of revenue for those living in the county. A shift from subsistence farming practised by many rural families could help uplift incomes and address perennial food shortages.

Prof Egara Kabaji, the director of Communication and Publishing at Masinde Muliro University, says the county has a promising and bright future because of the vast resources and wealth in human capital. “Kakamega is a perfect example of a Rainbow County in the sense that it stands out in its uniqueness in terms of its physical location and because it has embraced communities from different parts of the country and opened up its doors to investment opportunities,” said Prof Kabaji. The university don said all leaders from the county should mobilise local residents to take advantage of the opportunities for agricultural production to improve their livelihoods.

Masinde Muliro University has had a major impact on the economic growth of Kakamega in the last five years, setting off a scramble to the town by investors. According to the university’s deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, Prof Sibilikhe Makhanu, Sh700 million is released into the region’s economy annually because of activities taking place at the institution. Prof Kabaji said despite the small sizes of land, communities in the county could take advantage of the fertility of the soils to move into horticultural production instead of relying on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. He said introduction of cottage industries in rural villages should serve as major catalyst to drive economic growth in the county.

Source: NATION

Ground breaking investment takes shape in Kakamega

Dickson Mutoka, Pure Po
Entrepreneur: Dickson Mutoka


By Shabanji Opukah, June 7 2010
By August / September this year, Kakamega will be home of a ground breaking and most welcome new investment and employer West of the Rift Valley. A state of the art water purification and bottling plant will commence operations. The water brand is called Pure Po and is part of the Great Po stable of businesses based in Kakamega town. Pure Po will be a natural mineral drinking water coming out of the Pure Po Aquifer which is part of the Kakamega Tropical Forest, home of the famous Kakamega Crying Stone. Now into its near-one-year of hard work, Pure Po is a dream come true made so by its intrepid marketing whiz kid Dickson Mutoka who is also the sole owner and CEO of the Great Po Company.

Talking to this writer at the Pure Po plant located along Kakamega Kisumu highway in Shirere Kakamega town, Dickson as he always prefers to be called said, Pure Po was truly a product of necessity and historically challenging circumstances. He had for more than one year been a distributor of Keringet water in Western Province. Then came the 2007/2008 post election violence and things literally fell apart. The Keringet Company was unable to deliver products to the market despite the strong marketing and sales channels Dickson had developed. At the same time Dickson was on the verge of retiring from his well paying job as head of sales and marketing at Mumias Sugar Company.

So call it inspiration or catch 22, Dickson decided it was time to fill the void by going it alone in the water business. He had been to China and seen opportunities. He had been ravenously consuming information on the internet on water bottling and purification. And to make matters worse even his suppliers, Keringet decided to pull the rug under his feet by now going direct to his customers after the PEV period. Then he made the move. Forget about the Keringet and Pura Qua products and venture into own production. In other words out of the PEV ashes, Pure Po emerged as a phoenix.

Dickson attended an eye opening trade fair in Canton (Guangzhou), China and from there swung into action taking things beyond mere dreaming. He proceeded to develop a business plan, acquire premises, mobilised capital from own sources and then imported equipment to build the bottling plant. He also simultaneously developed the source from which the water is drawn and pumped to the plant about 900 metres away from the plant itself.

The Pure Po plant has a bottle blow–molding department, with capacity to produce PET bottles ranging in size from 20 litres to 300ml. The other department  is an automated water purification unit with capacity to produce 3000 litres of ultra-filtered water per hour and 1500 litres of bottles  of water p/h through the Reverse Osmosis (RO) process. Finally there is an automatic bottle rinsing, filling and capping section

The water has been tasted and it meets Kenya Bureau of Standards requirements. Other regulatory authority requirements have also been met. 

And so after over a yea-plus of hard work and  investment of  millions of Kenya Shillings, Dickson and his “revolutionary” idea of investing in Kakamega town is about to unveil a unique plant West of the Rift Valley, quite probably the only one of its kind around here, a historic one at that.

Dickson says he has installed capacity to produce 12,000 litres of water per day shift. That is quite a volume per month as one can see. It is serious business this, though Dickson will in his usual humility and demeanour want to play it down - maybe a typical Luhyia trait anyway, these guys rarely celebrate success.  But pressed further Dickson reels off with much ease and confident knowledge even more interesting statistics that will be the subject of a sequel to this story. You soon forget that he has only recently been selling sugar and prior to that, cigarettes for blue chip companies in Kenya. A widely travelled and thoroughly trained and experienced business executive with a Bachelors degree in Economics Geography from the University of Nairobi and a Masters degree in Agricultural Economics, with a bias to marketing, from Texas A&M University in the USA. Dickson has all it takes to run a business that is consumer targeted. The timing of the Pure Po water brand and its location could not have come at a better time.

Kakamega is changing faster than one could have imagined only a few years ago, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology being the main driver. No doubt such change will only hasten and expand with the anticipated post referendum constitutional devolution. One can only wish Pure Po and its founder Dickson Mutoka every bit of success. When it lands on the market, Pure Po will be one small step for Dickson but very likely a giant commercial leap for the country West of Rift Valley.

Plans are that the brand will start with a wide market coverage encompassing the whole of Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces with intentions to extend Kenya-wide thereafter. Pure Po water will be distributed along with Pure Po honey which Great Po is already producing and selling. The honey, like the water, is also a product of bees foraging on flowers of largely medicinal plants in Kakamega Tropical Rain Forest . The honey  be highly medicinal on account of its this.

All one now needs to say is watch the space and be ready to enjoy products manufactured right there in Kakamega, Western Province. When I asked Dickson Mutoka to give me some parting words that more or else can summarise his business vision and inspiration for the rest of us, he said, “We must stop saying it will not work. We should embrace the go-getter spirit and attitude and take calculated risks to invest and grow our economy”.

I agree with this and hope you too, do the same. It’s time to move on.

By Shabanji Opukah
Public Affairs Consultant and Analyst.
Little Rock Emakhuli Kakamega
5th June, 2010

Western says no to poverty

By Cosmas Butunyi, Oct 29 2009
Over the years, Western Province has worn the unenviable tag of being among the poorest regions in the country despite its huge untapped potential. Its admirable natural resource base ranges from the lush sugarbelt of Mumias to the gold-rich Ikolomani to the fisheries in Port Victoria and to the scenic Kakamega Forest. All these notwithstanding, a huge proportion of residents of the province that occupies approximately seven per cent of the country’s total land area still wallows in abject poverty.

Analysts say the region is sitting on resources with the potential to totally transform its fortunes. When he toured the province recently during the official launch of six branches of Equity Bank, deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi said that an investment programme was necessary to spearhead the tapping of the huge resources.“Why is Western Province poverty- stricken yet we have good soils and get enough rains?” he asked. According to him, poverty indices lump the province with the comparatively less endowed regions of the country such as North Eastern Province. Poor people “There is no dignity in poverty and no MP can be proud to lead poor people. As leaders we should put in every effort in uplifting the living standards of our people,” Mr Mudavadi said. Among the reasons cited for the slow pace of development is the reluctance by residents to invest by taking loans.

Amagoro MP Sospeter Ojaamong said the fear of taking loans derived from past experiences of locals at the hands of banks from which they had taken loans. Mr Ojaamong said that those who defaulted had their land and property that was used as collateral, auctioned thereby instilling fear among residents. However, Mr Mudavadi said the fear was unfounded since residents of other areas also borrowed. He added that even governments borrowed not only from international organisations, but also from its citizens through Treasury bills.

Emuhaya MP Wilbur Ottichilo said there was need to develop a savings culture among the residents to foster investment. He said that this was the only was small-scale traders and boda boda cyclists would be able to change their living standards. Then there is the poor entrepreneurship skills of the residents, which observers say has held them back from seizing investment opportunities. Equity Bank co-director Ezekiel Alembi challenged residents to take up loans and invest in the region. “We do not want to have a society of beggars,” Dr Alembi said. Equity Bank has unveiled plans to stimulate rural entrepreneurship among communities in Western Province to address their poverty.

The bank intends to mobilise 50 groups each from the province’s 24 constituencies to benefit from training on entrepreneurial skills and financial management. The groups will then be considered for loans by the bank as part of strategy to exploit the untapped potential for economic growth in the region. Investment conference It was during the tour to open up Equity Bank branches that Mr Mudavadi announced that the issue of investment would be addressed during a Western Province Investment Conference that was held in Kakamega two weeks ago.

The conference’s concept note stated that it was expected to develop a blueprint for an investment development agenda and strategy for the region. Western Province, the note said, was poor but not for lack of resources - the region is endowed with good soil, rain and manpower. “Given its untapped investment resources, this region can become the agricultural, industrial, and commercial and trade linkage hub of the Great Lakes Region, especially as Kenya embarks on the realisation of the 2030 Vision. Indeed, of what use will the new Kisumu International Airport be to the people if they do not invest in horticulture for export?” it reads in part. Conference secretary Kibisu Kabatesi said the meeting that was co-convened with the Kenya Investment Authority (KenInvest) and the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) and co-sponsored by Mumias Sugar Company and Equity Bank, took stock of the available investment areas in the province.

“This is a community effort to get people out of economic quagmire,” he said. The more than 600 delegates ranging from MPs, civic leaders, investors, professionals and representatives of the religious organisations and academia gathered for two days to brainstorm over how best to tap into the region’s potential. “The broad representation was to help dispel some myths about wealth in the province and to tell residents that legally acquired wealth is not bad,” Mr Kabatesi said. He added that there was a religious belief held by some organisations that the ‘poor would go to heaven,’’ which makes many contented about remaining poor.

Challenges to investment were discussed with a view of looking into ways of eliminating them. The available opportunities for the various sectors from the small and medium to the micro and macro enterprises will be compiled for different sectors. The idea to hold the Western Province Investment Conference was borne out of a meeting in October last year called by Mr Mudavadi and attended by ministers Wycliffe Oparanya (National Planning and Vision 2030), Fred Gumo (Regional Development) and Paul Otuoma (Fisheries Development).

Source: Nation Media

Iron Lady takes over at Capital Markets Authority

By our correspondent, July 17 2008
If Ms Stella Kilonzo’s six-month stint in an acting capacity, after former CEO Edward Ntalami opted to retire is anything to go by,  she is cut out for the task. Sections of the male-dominated market are already fuming at her determined push to safeguard public interest. Ms Kilonzo was confirmed on Tuesday by President Kibaki changing her status from acting to a substantive CEO at the market regulator, a position that plunges her into the deep end of a market crying out for reforms and reeling from an investor confidence crisis following the collapse of two brokerage firms.

“First she needs to demutualise (liberalise ownership) the Nairobi Stock Exchange, then protect its integrity and allow private trading between parties,” said Mr Robert Bunyi, formerly with Renaissance Capital. “She has to make sure that the public trusts brokers.”

Under her watch, CMA made history by suing Patrick Gakiavih, the managing director of the collapsed Nyaga Stockbrokers, on claims of fraud. The Authority has successfully applied to freeze his assets. It is thought that she was the key proponent of the newly proposed regulations seeking to restructure brokerage firms and investment banks through separation of ownership and limiting management besides increasing their core capital.


stella kilonzo
Stella Kilonzo, the iron lady at Capital Markets Authority

To show her impatience with the poorly managed firms, she had proposed a six month compliance period for the rules that are expected to change the face of the capital markets. However, stockbrokers are said to have lobbied to have the rules implemented over a period of five years but the then Finance minister Amos Kimunya surprised them with a three-year deadline in the budget.

“The Authority had proposed six months but industry players suggested five years. If Mr Kimunya had given us the six months it would have been a disaster,” Mr Job Kihumba, the executive director in charge of corporate finance and research at Standard Investment Bank said after the budget speech. Source: Nation Media, July 17 2008

Nzoia Sugar braces itself for privatisation

By our correspondent, Oct 15 2007
Nzoia Sugar Company Limited is located in Bungoma District, Western province and is within Kenya’s sugar belt. It was formed under Companies Act Cap 486 Laws of Kenya with Memorandum of Articles of Association and issued a certificate of incorporation.

From a noble idea conceived under the April 22 1976 financial protocols signed in Paris between Kenya and the French government, Nzoia Sugar Company started crushing at 2000 tonnes of cane per day on October 20th 1978. Fives Cail Babcock of France had on 7/8/78 signed a contract to start a turnkey sugar factory in Kenya which by 3/3/77 had proudly erected the structures with water tests being carried out on 3rd May the same year. By July 1978, cane transport fleets were already on site to deliver this sweet commodity.

Initial objectives for the inception of sugar were to: - increase the country’s GDP through exports; open rural industrialization development; curb rural-urban migration and create employment; create social-economic enhancement; improve rural infrastructure and communication systems; and attain self-sufficiency in sugar production. These objectives had a more social than economic orientation and with global trends the latter had to be given prominence. More...