If you walk around most hotels and restaurants in Kisii Town, you will not fail to spot Sipporah Kemunto Mokua, 40, a well-known charcoal seller who has been in the business for more than 20 years.
Commonly known as ‘mama makaa’ on Kisii streets, Kemunto solely depends on selling charcoal for a living.
Kemunto says she was introduced to the business by a colleague who gave her Sh200 as a soft loan which she then used to buy her first bag of charcoal.
“From that first bag, I was able to sell 10 tins of charcoal on the very first day. This was totally against what my expectations were,” she says.
From one sack, to five sacks, her business grew and expanded and she eventually became a major supplier of the commodity in Kisii Town.
“As the business grew, I decided to stop selling the charcoal out in the open and looked for a kiosk where I set up my store and charcoal supply base,” she says.
And the business has been good to Kemunto who says it has enabled her purchase two acres of land in the outskirts of Kisii town as well as educate three of her sons to university while her last born is in form four.
Kemunto takes home Sh1,100 from sale of one sack of charcoal earning her a profit of between Sh500 to 550 daily from one sack.
For her business to remain successful, Kemunto says she has had to make a lot of sacrifices that include her rising very early in the morning to ensure restaurants are supplied with the commodity. She also has to put up with not so sanitary working conditions.
“You have to sacrifice in life to get what you need. When I am on my chores you do not expect me to be clean. Look at my hands. Some people will look down upon you and they even go on to treat you poorly,” she says.
Accessing the commodity is also not a simple task and she has to move from one timber yard to the next.
“Burning of charcoal is very expensive since there is scarcity of trees and those who supply us with it sometimes inflate their prices, especially when they discover you are in dire need,” she says.
Because carbon found in charcoal is a health hazard, especially if inhaled in large quantities, Kemunto ensures she always wears protective gear.
Based on her experiences in the juakali industry, mama makaa challenges women to avoid being dependent on their husbands and urges the youth to think of self-employment other than waiting for white collar jobs.
“A woman has what it takes to make things happen. Our youth should also wake up from their preference of white collar jobs and realise that self-employment is also an option,” she says.