Inside Nakuru's quest to regain vibrant industrial hub status

Aeral view of Nakuru town. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Nakuru County is on the road to regain its previous status as a vibrant industrial hub, with two major industrial parks in the pipeline.

In the past three decades, Nakuru City has experienced slowed manufacturing activity and a sharp decline in industries, resulting in thousands of people being rendered jobless with a ripple effect of higher poverty levels.

Major industries that either collapsed, became dormant or relocated from Nakuru include East Africa Industries, ABC Foods, Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, Elliots Bakeries Limited which exited the scene in 1994, Eveready Batteries Limited which folded in 2015 following influx of cheap imports from China, and pre-independence era Kabazi Canners.

But in the latest move to boost the county’s industrial growth, Governor Susan Kihika is working closely with the national government to establish two industrial parks that are expected to completely transform the county’s fortunes as the preferred investment destination.

Recently, President William Ruto announced that Sh1 billion will go towards establishing an agro-industrial park in Njoro sub-county where the government has identified a parcel of land.

The agro-industrial park will be the second in the region after the establishment of the Naivasha Economic Zone by former President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Naivasha project is 40-50 per cent complete and a Turkish investor is already on the ground.

According to government documents, the project requires over Sh10 billion to be fully operational in the next two years.

In the budgetary proposals, the industrial park that has already attracted several investors is in need of funds for wastewater and sewerage management, and the construction of warehouses.

The proposed agro-industrial park in Njoro will be located at Ngongongeri farm owned by Egerton University, which has allocated the project 200 acres of land.

This project is one of six flagship projects being undertaken by the Ministry of Investment, Trade, and Industry under the Flagship of EPZ Manufacturing Hubs in various counties in collaboration with county governments.

The agro-industrial park will be part of the six EPZ flagship projects including Delmonte in Kiambu county, KPCU Sagana in Kirinyaga county, ICDC Industrial Park in Eldoret Uasin Gishu, Busia and Nyamira counties.

According to the Nakuru County government, the proposed industrial park is expected to have a significant impact on the local economy, creating thousands of jobs for the local people and pitching Nakuru as a world-class trade and investment destination.

Stephen Kuria, the CEC Member for Trade, says the project is expected to leverage Egerton University's existing strengths in agriculture and agribusiness to create a hub for innovation, research, and enterprise in the sector.

“The park will provide a platform for entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses to collaborate and develop new products, services, and technologies,” he said, adding that it will not only create job opportunities, but also help to improve the quality and competitiveness of the agricultural sector in the region.

Mr Kuria said the overall goal of the project is to contribute to the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) of setting-up six agro-processing hubs across Kenya through public-private partnerships.

According to feasibility studies conducted by World Bank, the project will cover nine counties neighbouring Nakuru in central Rift.

The region will focus on manufacturing of key products including cereals, tea, coffee, pyrethrum, flowers, vegetables, timber, pharmaceuticals, and livestock and dairy processing.

According to Kuria, the park will also exploit cheap geothermal power from the Menengai steam wells being done by the Geothermal Development Company (GDC).

Governor Kihika has pledged to fast track operationalisation of  the agro-industrial park, saying it will host a variety of industries, including agro-processors, ICT hubs, energy-sector companies, engineering and construction firms, and chemical industries.

The park will also attract private investors into establishing food processing plants that will add value on agricultural produce.

“The park is expected to nurture, transfer and commercialise various innovations and technologies for the benefit of our people that have for a long time lagged behind in technology and innovation,” she noted. 

[Additional reporting by Antony Gitonga]