When Patrick Kariuki first moved to Nairobi in 2017, he realised that residents loved purchasing unpacked rice from grain stores.
Having been brought up in Mwea, Kirinyaga County, where quality rice is grown and processed, he chose to venture into the grains business, ploughing into the venture Sh300,000.
Kariuki’s shop located in Donholm estate in Nairobi boasts of several cereal products such as rice, maize, millet and sorghum as well as legumes like beans, peanuts and green grams sourced from around the country.
Kevin Kiriza, on the other hand, vends farm-fresh vegetables at Mutindwa market in Buru Buru. Kiriza, who was a second-hand clothes dealer, switched business after realising there was a growing demand for traditional vegetables.
The veggies he sells include managu (African nightshade), kunde (cow peas), spinach, mrenda (jute mallow) and dodo (amaranth).
Kiriza’s day begins at 3am, with his first stop being Muthurwa market where vegetables from Busia, Kisumu and Kakamega are brought. He then heads to Gikomba market where he collects deliveries often sent in from Limuru and Kiambu where he makes direct orders from farmers.
“It takes time and caution to get the best produce at good bargain. If you don’t go early, you miss the best,” says the 25-year-old, who started the business with Sh10,000.
For Kariuki, though, the process of sourcing the cereals and legumes is entirely different but equally requires patience and caution. The 23-year-old works with a network of traders, some of who go to the farms to collect the best produce, another group transports it to the urban areas before it reaches him to sell to consumers.
“Each player in this network has to do their part well to keep the business running,” says Kariuki.
Sourcing directly from the farmer is a little cheaper for a trader, according to him, but it costs more in the sense of time and transport. However, with the network, the whole process is coordinated.
Brokers closer to the farmers are able to identify the best product while still on the farm and make orders while those at the selling point are able to identify the demand.
Kariuki buys a 300kg bag of pishori rice at Sh33,900, transport charges included, then sells at Sh150 a kilo. A bag of beans, on the other hand, goes for up to Sh10,000, with maize being among the cheapest grains.
For Kiriza, the traditional vegetables, on the other hand, are bought in large bundles which are then divided into smaller ones. According to him, a bundle that goes for Sh30 at 3am at Muthurwa market would an hour later go for Sh50.
At his stall, he divides the bundles into two equal halves, selling each at Sh20.
The two traders say the sales they make from the farm products put food on their tables.
In a good month, Kariuki who lives in Pipeline estate, goes home with Sh100,000 while Kiriza, who resides in Harambee estate in Buru Buru, pockets Sh25,000.
To run the business, one has to have several licences. Kairuki has a health permit which costs Sh1,200 a year, one for food hygiene Sh7,000 and a trading licence, which goes for Sh5,000 annually. Kiriza, on the other hand, has a health permit and pays the county government Sh50 daily.
The risks in the businesses run high. Besides his veggies going bad, Kiriza says he has made losses due to unscrupulous brokers and farmers who package spoilt vegetable.
“If one is not careful, you will find rotten or wilted vegetables hidden among fresh ones. It is hard to notice since we buy the produce early morning.”
Kariuki has also encountered such situations. While rice and other cereals are not perishable, some farmers may store them in poor conditions prompting spoilage and this may go undetected until the product is in his hands.
“On several instances, customers have brought back products complaining of bad taste, which forces me to replace the product or to return their money.”