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Kenya’s newest hustle is invisible

By XN Iraki | January 10th 2018

A new hustle is bustling along the country’s highways: selling hay by the roadside. Pickups, donkey carts and lorries full of bales of hay are especially common along the Karatina-Nairobi road. One bale of hay costs about Sh250, says Francis Mwangi of Joy Farm in Lanet, Nakuru.

In the past, grass would grow and wither with the seasons. Now it’s harvested and stored until the dry season sets in. Why is grass becoming almost as precious as water?

It so happens that dairy farming is enjoying a revival after the death of co-operative societies in the Central Kenya region. Evidence of this comes from thriving dairy companies like Githunguri, Lari, Limuru and, more recently, Kinangop and Countryside.

Paradoxically, dairy farming is booming at a time when farm sizes are shrinking courtesy of inheritance and competition with real estate.

This has led to a serious shortage of fodder, so entrepreneurs have come in to fill the void. They cut grass from shambas, roadsides and wherever else it can be found – including some golf courses. Maize cobs and husks, as well as rice stalks are other forms of fodder, and they’re all on sale.

The new hustle, selling grass, has very low operating costs. Grass just grows and often needs no fertiliser. The only cost now is baling, and entrepreneurs with baling machines are in business. One told me he doesn’t need to be paid in cash – he prefers payment in grass bales.

The business is profitable in another way. Grass is not perishable. You just need to dry it and store it until it’s needed, which is usually during droughts when prices are higher.

It is also possible that the cost of animal feed has gone up and dairy farmers are seeking alternatives.

Cool enough

The rise of roadside grass sellers illustrates how entrepreneurs identify opportunities and exploit them in ways far removed from what the textbooks tell us. These books might also lead us to believe that such a business idea is not cool enough.

These roadside sellers also illustrate how changes in the supply chain create opportunities. When you buy your packaged milk, you just enjoy the cup of tea – ever wondered how many people benefit from your purchase, including roadside grass sellers?

These hustlers might not be in the national economic statistics, but they are heroes, exploiting the invisible hand of the market to make ends meet and oiling the cogs of economic growth.

There are many other hustlers, like garbage collectors, whom we give little attention but they play a critical role in their sectors’ supply chains.

It is time we paid more attention to these entrepreneurs who are invisible in statistics, but visible in reality and in their contribution to economic growth. Are you such a hustler? Talk to me on [email protected]

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