Snaking down from Iten town, through the forest to Kasubwa Trading centre along the escarpment (popularly known as the hanging valley), the rough road seems to confirm the obvious-the rough life experienced by the area residents.
Because of the general terrain of the land and specifically the condition of the road, there are no public service vehicles (PSV) plying the route, making movement from point A to point B where vehicles are required a nightmare for residents.
If one must travel, one need to use motorcycle transport (bodaboda) which charge exorbitantly as operators know there are no alternatives. The 28 kilometres stretch between Iten and Kasubwa costs residents up to Sh700.
In the midst of these challenges, a women group has found a business opportunity! Yamdaet (meaning togetherness in Keiyo dialect) women group has started a baking business in the area, which is along the boundary of Keiyo North and Marakwet West sub counties.
According to the chairperson of the group Christine Kaino, the idea of starting a bakery at the place was born of the fact that due to the transport challenges, there were no companies supplying bread or other bakery products to the area. Any shopkeeper wishing to deal in such had to meet extra cost as they had to travel to Chebiemit Trading centre along the Iten- Kapsowar road, 15 kilometers away, for their supplies.
“But the whole process had its origin in merry-go-round activities locally referred to as, chama,” says Mrs Kaino.
In the meantime, in their normal activities of empowering women and the underprivileged, especially in the rural areas, the World Vision organization came to know about Yamdaet Women Group Chama, incorporated it in their programme and gave them lessons on running businesses and also bookkeeping.
Since the group wanted to put the knowledge they acquired into practice, they brainstormed on several business ideas and settled for a bakery at the area after learning that among the group members were experts in baking besides considering the difficulties traders face getting bread for their shops.
World Vision further supported their efforts by providing a baking machine capable of baking 300 loaves of bread per day.
“Armed with everything and ready, we started our business by supplying bread and scones to neighbouring trading centres of Kasubwa, Sangurur and the neighbouring schools,” Mrs Kaino said.
But just three months into the business, before they had stabilized, the covid 19 pandemic struck and schools which were their major outlets were closed raising fears the business could nosedive as soon as it started.
They however soon learnt that the children only left school where supplies were direct and in bulk. With children at home, the demand for bread at homestead level went up thus instead of shrinking as they had feared, the business still flourished.
This business has expanded to even employ the willing husbands of the members. “Our husbands transport the products to the various destinations and we pay them at the end of the day for all deliveries made,” said Mrs Kaino.
Mrs Kaino says the group makes between Sh30,000 and Sh36,000 per month from the business.
According to the chairperson, the group started with 18 members in 2014 where they would contribute some money which they gave to one member each month, then repeated the same till all members benefited.
However, after learning about Savings for Transformation (SforT) from World Vision, they started a new way of saving whereby they would contribute Sh100 every week which instead of sharing out was retained in the group as capital for loans to members.
“We then issue loans from the group on members’ on need basis, which we pay back at a 10 per cent interest and which is again ploughed back to the group’s account then we share the proceeds at the end of the year,” Mrs Kaino said.
With time, other women were attracted to the group’s activities and asked to join, making it grow to 40 members to date.
By December 2020, the group had built their capital base to Sh409,000. “We no longer go to the banks or to any micro finance institutions to seek for loans, we comfortably get loans from the group and pay school fees for our children,” she said.
The money has also assisted them undertake other projects which before seemed impossible. The treasurer to the group Mrs Joyce Kiptoo said last year, she received Sh23,000 as her share which she used to buy 20 pipes.
“The pipes enabled me to supply water for irrigation to my farm. This has enabled me to farm all year around and thus ensure that my family has enough food,” she said.
The group has also diversified their sources of income after the county government bought them a tent. They then bought chairs, a public address equipment to help run events. The chairlady who is quite talented in public speaking doubles up as the Mistress of Ceremony.
They also bake cakes for various occasions including weddings, birthdays, graduations and others as orders may be. The cakes business is an added advantage because eggs used are sourced from the group’s poultry projects.
Noting that they use a lot of charcoal at the bakery, they have established a tree nursery where they sell seedlings at Sh10 each while each of the members must plant trees on their farms.
“This way, we ensure that we will have a constant supply of charcoal for our bakery and at the same time conserve the environment,” Mrs Kaino said.
Apart from the businesses that they run as a group; members have individual project like potato farming. But at harvesting time, the products are packaged and brought together to a central place where they are marketed directly without middlemen hence higher returns.
The group hopes to register as a cooperative society in the next two years and are also planning to buy a vehicle to ease the transportation of their goods.
The group’s motto, which directly relates to the group’s name, is biblical from Psalms 133:1, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
By Alice Wanjiru