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Highway merchants turn grass into cash

By Nikko Tanui | January 14th 2014 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Kericho’s grass merchants display their wares by the road. [Photo: Nikko Tanui/Standard]

By Nikko Tanui

Kericho, Kenya: Several entrepreneurs have set up thriving businesses along Kenyan highways, but perhaps the most striking are the grass merchants of Kericho.

At first glance, they look dirty, dishevelled and one might dismiss their business as nondescript. But once you notice the number of vehicles that stop to buy a sack or several of grass, you will take a second look.

Mr Stephen Langat says he began selling grass six years ago. He wakes up at 6am every day and, armed with a panga and several nylon sacks, heads out to the riverine forest by Unilever’s tea estates to cut grass.

By noon, the father of three has collected six bags of grass, which he ferries to the popular grass merchants’ selling point along the Kericho-Litein-Kisii/Bomet Highway, three kilometres from Kericho Town.

“I sell a bag of grass at Sh100 and take home an average of Sh600 a day, which adds up to Sh18,000 a month. Business is good. I often manage to sell all the sacks of grass I slash in a day to interested motorists, some of whom take it to far-off destinations like Kisii and Nakuru,” he says.

Mr Langat used to earn Sh2,000 a month as a farm worker. Since he started selling grass, however, he has been able to buy three cows, whose milk supplements his monthly income.

“Since I discovered this business, I don’t think I’d ever want to be employed again,” he says.

Mr Wycliffe Opuokwo got involved in the business two years ago.

“If you are dedicated, you have the potential to earn enormously from this business, especially during the dry season when you can take home up to Sh1,500 a day,” he says.

“I used to pick tea and earned Sh10,000 a month. With this grass, I earn an average of Sh15,000.”

Improved livelihood

The father of one says the additional income has helped him put up a better house for his family.

“I used to live in a grass-thatched hut, but I have since brought it down and built an iron sheet-roofed timber house.”

Mr Opuokwo, however, says the job is very labour intensive, so he is hoping to save enough to allow him to go into buying and selling tea back in his rural home in western Kenya. 

Mr Kenneth Kirui, who is single, also took up selling grass two years ago and says he takes home an average of Sh400 daily, but can earn up to Sh700 when business is good. He hopes to save up enough to open a shop in his Chepkolon Village.

Mr Justin Byegon fills six to eight bags a day, which sees him earn up to Sh15,000 a month, a far cry from the Sh5,000 he earned picking tea.

The father of two says the money allows him to pay school fees for his children and a younger brother who is in secondary school.

The grass trade has also lured school children who dabble in it over the weekend and during school holidays.

Amos Kabwere, 13, slashes and packs the grass, while his sister Eunice Mandera, 15, carries the sacks to a selling spot a few metres away from the older merchants.

On a good weekend, Mandera, a class eight pupil at Kipyebor Primary School, says they make an average of Sh1,000, which they give their parents to help with school fees.

During the interviews with the traders, Mr Michael Keter pulled up to make a purchase. He told Business Beat he has been buying grass from the merchants for years. He uses it to feed his two grade cows.

Welcome presence

“The grass sellers save me time, allowing me to concentrate on other issues. I also find them convenient as they are located along the road on my way home.”

He spends an average of Sh500 on grass per day, but earns Sh2,100 from the 35 litres of milk he gets from his cows, so he finds the expense worthwhile. 

Another buyer, Mr Samuel Koskie from Kapsuser trading centre, says he spends Sh200 per day on the grass, which he mixes with hay to feed his cows.

“After buying the grass, I take it home where it’s sorted to remove weeds and poisonous plants that might have been slashed along with the grass. After that, it is laid to dry a bit before I mix it with hay and feed it to my cows.

“Sometimes cows reject grass because it has been polluted by human activity or other animals, but when they get fresh grass like this, they can’t get enough of it and milk production goes up.”

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