How virus gave dying factories a lifeline after years of losses
HEALTH & SCIENCEBy PETER THEURI | Wed,Aug 19 2020 00:00:00 EATBy PETER THEURI | Wed,Aug 19 2020 00:00:00 EAT
When Kenya reported its first coronavirus case on March 13 this year, many Kenyans had no inkling of what awaited them.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, the economy, as did others worldwide, became sluggish.
People lost jobs in hordes, salaries were slashed and the health system started to buckle under the weight of increased hospitalisations as the virus spread rapidly. The ill-preparedness of the government was stark as it moved to put in place measures to contain the spread of the deadly disease.
And as individuals’ fortunes crashed, so did those of both big and small companies, with some being forced to close shop altogether.
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The pandemic was a major blow to businesses that were already under the strain of a tough 2019.
But in the face of the fresh trouble, some companies found a silver lining that could turn out to be their turning point. One such company is the Kitui County Textile Centre (Kicotec).
When the pandemic struck, the firm transformed into a 24-hour production house, targeting 30,000 pieces of face masks daily. This as the demand for the essential item skyrocketed, with the government making it mandatory for Kenyans to wear one while in public places.
The textile factory had in August last year received a major boost after it was contracted to supply the first batch of 2,804 uniforms for chiefs and their assistants in a move that was expected to create more employment opportunities. Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu said Kicotec is equipped with state-of-the-art machines capable of producing a variety of quality garments.
“We have the capacity to produce 5,000 garments per day. This facility has employed over 400 youths from the county,” the governor said.
According to Kicotec’s Chief Executive Georgina Musembi, the garment factory has since halted all other orders to concentrate on the production of face masks.
“Our driving force is to ensure that we play a role in combating the spread of Covid-19 in the country and save lives,” Musembi told The Standard in a recent interview.
He said orders for the masks are increasing by the day, which could see the company scale up daily production to 100,000 pieces. The bulk of orders are from county governments, non-governmental organisations, corporates, private hospitals and parastatals, including the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Kenyatta National Hospital has also placed a large order, according to Musembi.
Eldoret-based Rivatex East Africa Ltd is another company that has been handed a lifeline by the pandemic after it was also contracted to mass-produce face masks. Rivatex, a vertically integrated textile factory that converts cotton lint through various processes to finished fabrics, now boasts state-of-the-art machinery after years of struggle.
This was after the government secured Sh5 billion in funding from the US-based Export-Import Bank in 2019 for the plant’s revival.
Rivatex was officially opened in August 2007 by former president Mwai Kibaki as a Moi University facility for training, consultancy, research, product development and extension.
The facility kicked off the manufacture of the masks that are being distributed to health facilities across the country at the onset of the pandemic.
Managing Director Thomas Kipkurgat, in an earlier interview said they were producing 8,400 face masks daily at the time.
“As a textile facility, we have embarked on the production of face masks. Everything is running smoothly, and we expect to produce enough to help in the fight against this pandemic,” he said. It is not only big entities that have had to recalibrate their operations.
Private business owners too have had to adjust to the new normal to stay afloat. Joseph Maina, a private school owner in Ngurubani town, Kirinyaga County, has converted his school into a chicken farm.
Maina is rearing 1,100 chickens in the classrooms. He had to find a way to make a living and pay outstanding bank loans, which he had obtained to expand his Mwea Brethren School after it became apparent that schools wouldn’t be reopening any time soon.
“I depleted my savings because I continued paying teachers’ salaries even after schools closed. I had to find an alternative way to raise funds,” he said.
James Kung’u, the proprietor of Roka School in Mwea, has also converted his classrooms into chicken coops.
“Poultry farming is involving but also very interesting. It was fulfilling to enter a classroom and teach children. It is equally satisfying to find the classroom occupied by healthy chickens,” said Kung’u. Apart from the classrooms hosting 900 rainbow chickens of various ages, the school field has now been transformed into a farm with blossoming spinach and sukuma wiki.
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