State pushes small firms to embrace product standardisation

"MSMEs are very shy. They fear government. They think when the government comes to their offices, they will force them to do things they are unable to do," said Kebs Chairperson Bernard Ngure.

Speaking at the launch of 474 new standards prepared by the National Standards Council which he chairs, Mr Ngure said initially, the agency would just unveil standards, and make them public but there were no engagements with MSMEs.

Today, he said, through Biashara Centres, an initiative of the agency, MSMEs get served by all parastatals under one roof across all the regional offices.

"Initially, when an MSME came to the office, they were told they also need to go to that one, and the other one and they end up getting tossed around like a volleyball," he said.

Ngure said as a board, they have passed several policies geared towards boosting MSMEs.

"Because we know it is only through these businesses that we can be able to develop this country," he said. "The bulk of employment in this country, 80 per cent, is on MSMEs. But this is informal so unless we formalise them, those jobs will not be sustainable."

Standard aren't expensive

CS Maina said the way MSMEs are running their business today is not sustainable as it leads to wastage and losses. She gave an example of the construction sector where there are no standard measurements for doors or windows.

As such, whenever these products are needed, one has to go on the ground, take measurements, and then wield them according to the dimensions.

However, if this was standardised, it would be just a matter of putting in an order and they are delivered almost on spot. As such, it would be less costly.

"We need standards that respond to the needs of our enterprises," she said. "There are people avoiding standards because they think it is expensive and it is something we need to address."

The CS noted that the other side of the coin could be people (the market) are not demanding quality products, which should be addressed as well. "If consumers have not been socialised to demand quality products, then we have failed," she said.

Business optimisation

Mr Njiraini, while reiterating the sector reforms noted that the adoption of standards is not about how small a business is but a demonstration that on how a business can optimise its margins and make a profit.

"If you were to standardise some of the products that are manufactured by our MSMEs, including doors and windows, such that today, you do not have to go and give orders to jua kali people on the measurement of some of these products," he said.

"It's a question of if there are standards, they have measurements, and an MSME will immediately start manufacturing to that standard and wait for customers to come without necessarily customising."

He said the constant customising, cutting of metals, and having offcuts are what contribute to losses.

"There are what we call jigs and fixtures, that you make, that help you come up with a product that is sound, that meets the structural strength and dimension, and you do not have to waste, or weld excessively because even how they mesh is really good," said Lt Col (Rtd) Njiraini.

One of the ways to improve and create efficiency, noted Kebs boss, is being compliant with standards and that is what is going to drive profitability to these MSMEs. "We do not want these SMEs to die at infancy stages," he said. "Much of it is educating them."

New certification

He noted that now, the agency has a new welding certification.

"This is very important because they (welders) may be welding excessively or under welding, and then these parts that are joined together fail," he said. "So when we certify these welders, they acquire this competence under the ISO, then they can even weld not only here but also out of the country."

"Remember we have been importing welders for some of these very high skilled projects like in the petroleum industry."

Njiraini said the agency over the last few years has come up with an MSME policy that is geared towards giving incentives and subsidising costs so that some of these businesses can get access to the standards they publish.

And also get product certification at a lower cost compared to large companies.

"For example, an MSME can get its products certified for Sh5,000 plus VAT for three products; that is quite subsidised considering we do take samples, test them and also visit their factories to assess their capacity to produce the products that meet the standards required," he said.


He said Kebs has been working with SMEs to help them understand standards and requirements, product certifications, and also the need for compliance.

"Standards are not necessarily for the rich countries. Standards are held to reduce costs when you look at the model of the cost of poor quality when you do not comply," he said.

He maintained that these standards are created by a team of experts who agree on the optimum requirement so that businesses make durable products.

"There are some shoes that once exposed to sunlight just wear off. We have to put standards to MSMEs to encourage them to get these certifications," said the Kebs boss.

He further detailed that these standards will help Kenyan products penetrate the regional market and this will grow the MSMEs.

"Once we get these standards certifications, you can sell your products across the borders and that is how we can expand our market and our products will be preferred out there," he said.