Small-Scale Manufacturing in Kenya
Updated: Apr 13
Today’s post is a re-post from David Zarembka’s Report from Kenya blog. David is an American who has lived in Kenya for many years. I appreciate his observations on everyday life in western Kenya. These projects are not specifically SIA related but I have seen similar small-scale manufacturing operations as part of the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund.
Every day on my afternoon walk, I pass by the shop pictured below. A few weeks ago I stopped by to have Griffin’s (my grandnephew) shoes repaired. As we were waiting for them to be fixed, I realized that this shop was also making new shoes. In particular at this time at the beginning of the school year, they were making the black school shoes that students wear. I asked how much they cost and I was told $8. We had just bought shoes for Griffin for $24 from Bata Shoe-Kenya that makes 30 million pairs of shoes per year for the Kenyan market. We had spent $16 more that we could have.
I then noticed that the sign said, “Shoe Maker” with drawings beside the door. I wondered how I could have missed noticing this for the years that I have walked past the shop. The owners are two men, including the one in the picture, and a women whom I assume is the wife of one of the men. They were using only a treadle sewing machine to stitch the shoes – they were using no electricity. While we were there waiting for Griffin’s shoes to be repaired, one of the men had sewed together the top of a shoe and the woman had applied the polish to a shoe that had been made previously. Since they stay in business, I expect that they are making a decent living.
This led me to think about all the other small manufacturing outfits in town. I give some examples below:
Above is the house being built next door to us. At this point in the construction, the owner is building a cement block wall around this plot. Normally these cement blocks would be made in a large establishment, purchased, and transported to the site. In this case, though, the builders decided to bring the gravel, sand, and cement to the plot and hire people to manufacture the blocks on site. This should be much cheaper than buying and transporting them from a distant company.
There are at least seven shops in Lumakanda town that make metal doors, windows, gates, and other metallic items. Here you can see the door on the left that this welder is constructing. Of course, they have to buy the metal sheets and rods, but the “added value” of making the items occurs here in Lumakanda.
This is a furniture shop in town that makes chairs, sofa, tables, cabinets, and other wooden furniture. This shop does have electricity and has some power tools including a plainer. The wood comes from nearby trees, although the foam and fabric have to be purchased from outside. We have bought a good deal of our furniture from this shop. We also bought a few manufactured pieces from town and we found that the furniture built in Lumakanda is much stronger and much easier to repair if needed. While not as elegant as the store bought furniture, they are much cheaper. There are at least three other furniture shops in town. [Read about Austin’s SIA-related carpentry business]
This bakery just opened in town a few months ago. Rather than bring their items from a larger factory, they bake the bread, cookies, biscuits, and cakes right here in town. They sell their pound loaf of white bread for 40 cents while the commercial bread is 50 cents. Next time we need a birthday cake, rather than buying it in Eldoret, which we have had to do previously, we will buy it at Daddies Cake Basket. [Read about Ruth’s SIA-related bakery]
There are other manufacturing enterprises nearby. For example, brick making is local business where the brick makers make the mud bricks and then, after drying, fires them in a kiln. Likewise a “sawmill” is two men on a motorcycle who drive with a chain saw and fuel to the tree that needs to be cut down and sawed into lumber.
I have realized that Lumakanda is a small-scale manufacturing city. When all these small manufacturing businesses are added together, they give self-employment/employment to a good number of people. In addition the money then stays in the community rather than flowing elsewhere to the large establishment in Eldoret or Nairobi.