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Trader mints millions from watermelon business

While many youths in Kenya are seeking for white collar jobs, there are yet other people who armed with their entrepreneurial skills have identified a niche in the market and have left their employers to venture into business.

One such person is Stephen Kinyua who left his job to venture into business. While still working, Kinyua identified a gap in the supply of watermelons in Tharaka Nithi County and more specifically Chuka town that was rapidly expanding thanks to the establishment of Chuka University in its outskirts at Ndagani.

The influx of an enormous number of students plus both teaching and support staff in the institution of higher learning skyrocketed the demand for foodstuffs including fruits and vegetables.

While most fruits like mangoes, paw paws, oranges, and passion were readily available from the University neighbourhood, there are exceptions such as apples and water melons which had to be sourced from beyond Tharaka Nithi County boundaries.

Although watermelons were being cultivated on a small scale in the Tharaka parts of the county, the market increased when the University established a constituent college in Tharaka, hence the local supply of watermelons could not meet the available demand.

Kinyua, who is now a veteran after selling watermelons in Chuka Open Air market for the last ten years narrates to KNA his experience and the story behind his enormous success.

Kinyua has always been an ambitious person since his youth. He always dreamt big and the salary from his employer was way below what he dreamt of achieving in his lifetime. He wanted a better income to better his family’s lifestyle and even visualized being an employer himself.

“Why continue serving as an employee to someone else? Employment has a limitation in how much one can achieve in life and this was not the kind of life I wished to live all my lifetime, ” he disclosed to KNA.

“Besides, who knew a calamity like Covid-19 would come leading to huge lay-offs in the employment sector? Although business has its ups and downs, the wise will save enough to cater for difficult times. But with employment the remuneration is restricted,” he says.

With the establishment of Chuka University the entrepreneur saw an opportunity for earning the kind of income he had always dreamt of. He quit his job as a teacher in 2013 and ventured into the sale of melons in the growing market. As his specialty got rewarded his prowess grew and his prominence as one of the leading suppliers of watermelons into Chuka town has never diminished.

The deficit in the supply of watermelons led Kinyua to purchase a truck to ferry the commodities from far places like Garissa, Lamu and Baringo in the Rift Valley region.

Not even during unlucky times has Kinyua ever regretted his decision to venture into business. It became his source of money to educate his children. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic really hit very hard on the business community but having tasted the sweet proceeds of the business prior to the phenomenon, the entrepreneur still looked forward to a better future.

During the good times, Kinyua was able to build himself a house, buy a piece of land for watermelon farming in Tharaka area and acquire a lorry for transportation of his watermark commodity.

“I have watched my life change since I got into business,” adds Kinyua who now has stalls in both Chuka town and its Ndagani outskirts.

But as they say Rome was not built on a single day and Kinyua admits that he has encountered strange challenges in his line of business. He explained that the price of getting such a huge stock of the commodity is expensive.

To dominate the watermelon market in Chuka town, Kinyua had to be patient to create a loyal customer base that sustains him in the business. However, the benefits which range from easy loans and insurance benefits are agreeable.

Since starting the journey of selling of watermelons, Kinyua says that the demand has been varying due to the economic circumstances. He reveals that the network to get good watermelons has been a major challenge. At times he would end up acquiring unripe watermelons which would enormously eat into his profit margin.

Besides, Kinyua discloses that the watermelon market since the middle of 2022 is almost disappointing due to the high costs of transportation. He says that his average transportation cost has doubled from Sh 40,000 to Sh 80,000 due to the rise of fuel prices yet he has to seek for the water melons from distant places like Lamu, Garissa and Baringo.

But his expanding market gives him hope. He believes that the current government will improve the economy. Besides, his expansion into the Ndagani outskirts has become his major breakthrough.

“The market at Ndagani is none like any other. The demand for watermelons in the small locality surpasses that of Chuka town and the secret is said to lie in the metropolitan nature with people from all over the world joining the University,” he discloses.

“Small market blocks with multiple saloons, restaurants, shops, eateries and even academies have sprouted up and with an enlightened immigrant population the demand for fruits and vegetables continue to increase by the day,” he observes.

Kinyua advises the youth who are complaining about unemployment. “I would like to tell the youth that life is about risking. For me to enlarge my business, I had to take a loan facility from Sacco. It was a bit scary but I trusted my instincts. No risk no gain.”

“Sacco’s are very helpful. They have low interest rates and give sufficient grace period for repayment. They also listen to their clients in case of a delayed loan payment,” Kinyua adds.

“And more importantly entrepreneurs rise by lifting others,” he says revealing that with the afflictions of poverty having slowly disappeared from his lifestyle, he now relishes the forthright privilege of being the employer he had once dreamt about. He has not only created a job for the person who sells at his Ndagani store but has also employed a crew for loading and unloading his truck.
By David Mutwiri and Mark James Kimotho

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