By: KIHU IRIMU
A container sitting by the side of Karen–Langata Road appears like any other set up by business people seeking to cash in on a service residents need.
But owner Joe Munene, 62, is doing more. Inside the walls of the container are impressive pictures that tell his story of 30 year’s fascination with vehicles.
Munene provides transport mainly to smallholder farmers, most who do not have money to buy tractors and trucks used to ferry farm produce, animals and feeds.
“Every small–scale farmer is unavoidably a transporter. Whether big or small, farm optimum performance is solely dependent on inputs arriving on the farm at the right time and the harvest hitting the market when demand is at a peak.”
From a two-acre pears farm, one harvests up to three tonnes of fruits. Relying on hired transport can be expensive.
Many smallholder farmers use donkey carts, their family vehicles, bicycles or carry their produce on their heads.
It is this gap that Munene saw and moved in to fill with his agribusiness called Quntaum Trailers.
The trader designs small carts to help farmers who own other vehicles take their produce to market.
“The idea is to help create additional space in carrying seeds, manure, animals and other farm inputs. The farmer, therefore, does not need to have a pick-up truck or hire transport,” explains Munene.
The carts help the farmer keep his family car while running the farm.
“Over 50 per cent of my 20 or so customers every year are young farming couples who face transport issues. They have their family cars, but do not want to use them to do farm work because that is not what they were meant to do,” he says.
Munene started figuring out how to address transport problems while growing up in Githunguri, Kiambu.
He studied for Higher Diploma mechanical engineering at Kenya Polytechnic and completed in 1984.
“After graduation, I remained jobless and without resources,” he recalls. He decided to leave the country for Botswana in 1998.
“In that country transport is considered key in agriculture and it is well-integrated,” says Munene.
Wastage due to transport constraints has been reduced to less than 10 per cent, standards Kenya can also reach.
There, he worked as a mechanical engineer with a firm which built carts and trailers for transporting the company’s mechanical products around the region.
On his return to Kenya after 11 years, Munene decided to work on ideas he had picked up from Botswana. The results which are the carts farmers use to carry animals, farm produce and inputs. He invested Sh1.5 million in the business.
Munene has so far sold tens of the carts, targets farmers owning small vehicles, which can tow a cart of up to 1,000kg to transport fertiliser to farms or milk, vegetables, flowers and animals to the market.
According to the Traffic Act, the carts are legal and recognised as “extension of vehicles” and trailers. Specifications are given according to height, length or engine capacity of the towing vehicle.
His Vuruta Trailer is designed for all kinds of small vehicles.
It can transport a cow to the clinic or market, 20 bags of fertiliser each weighing 50kg or several bags of potatoes or cabbages.
He blames bad understanding of the laws for poor adoption of the carts. He imports some parts from Japan but uses 70 per cent local metal, wheels and plastics to build the carts with the support of technical staff.
Depending on specifications, one cart can go for anything between Sh200,000 and Sh1.2 million compared to imported ones that will cost twice as much.
It takes him two or three weeks to complete a cart. Munene has two engineering students as apprentices at any one time.
“The carts are generally welded steel fabrications constructed with motor vehicle parts. I use Toyota hub bearings, rims, springs and leaf, among other materials.”
Miriam Mugue, the agricultural extension officer, Ruiru sub-county, says transport is not given the attention it deserves.
She says most farmers are 5-25km from the road, in Western, Eastern, Nyanza and the Coast where she has worked, and the common mode of transport is donkey carts.
Farmers need to incorporate transport in their farming plans, she concludes.
In many counties, 80 per cent of farmers lose at least 20 per cent of their produce during the rainy season because big trucks picking the produce cannot use muddy, narrow feeder roads. Farmers too lack transport the produce but the cost causes no concern because of poor book keeping.
Carrots, vegetables, sukuma wiki drop in prices by half or are fed to animals due to lack of transport because only a few traders can reach the rural areas where they dictate the prices, a fact that keeps poverty spreading fast even as farmers work hard.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION