Moi's desire for airport led to Uplands Bacon's demise

Sunday February 17 2019

Uplands Bacon Factory

The dilapidated building that housed Uplands Bacon Factory. The firm started having problems before independence by incurring heavy losses on exports to Britain. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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When President Daniel arap Moi announced that an international airport would be built in Eldoret, wheeler-dealer Tiny Rowland agreed to sell, some say donate, 3,000 acres of his East African Tanning land, which was valued by the government at Sh160 million.

But Lonhro PLC sent its valuer who put the property at Sh310 million. But was Tiny Rowland selling the land or was he donating it to the government?

Only he — and most likely Moi — knew the answer.

But rather than go with its own valuation, the government mandarins opted for private valuation, and that is how the State valuation was thrown away.

Interestingly, the government had no money and could only pay Sh200 million.

The balance was paid with the assets of Uplands Bacon Factory, which was owned by the Uplands Pig Producers Association — and that was how the pork industry was killed.


Why the government gave away a property owned by some private pig farmers in Lari for an airport located more than 200 kilometres away has always been a puzzle.

Why the government did not inject funds to revive the factory rather than give it away for a song is intriguing.

But that is the story of our times — but ever since the pig farmers are always at the mercy of monopolies.

Had Uplands Bacon Factory survived, it would now be 113 years old — and pig farming would, perhaps, be a huge business in this country.

The potential of Kenya for pig farming had been noted even before the country became a British colony in 1920.

Before that, commercial pig farming had started in Lari in 1906 with the surprise entry of a London company, East African Estates Limited, which was granted 248 acres on the understanding that it would start a bacon-curing industry.


Fronted by Colonel Owen Thomas, this company was financed by Charles Sydney Goldman, once a war correspondent for Evening Standard, and regarded as the pioneer of pineapple and sisal plantations in East Africa.

Mr Goldman was immensely wealthy by the time he started experimenting with pigs in Lari, having made money from the gold mines of South Africa, where he was born in 1868.

Both Thomas and Goldman had a dream of turning Kenya into a leading pork exporter — and their only mistake was that they targeted the small white settler population — like other settlers.

To their advantage, they were managing what was believed to be Kenya’s largest company, East African Estates, and which had become the talk of the British Empire after it was given a concession of 260,000 acres in Diani, Mombasa — triggering the modern-day squatter crisis in the Coast.

This is because this vast land was uncultivated and badly managed.

Unlike other areas where locals were pushed out, East African Estates only held their land on paper and locals never knew that it had been given away.


In 1930s when Jomo Kenyatta was telling all those who cared to listen about the land crisis in Kenya, he would always point at East African Estates and its vast land.

That was the other story of the man who started the pork industry in the country.

While serious outbreak of African swine fever in 1907 had wiped out 90 percent of the pig population, this did not stop the expansion of the industry.

Although many farmers had lost interest after the disaster, the industry picked again in 1909 and by 1914.

Kenya had been identified as one of the world’s future supplier of high-grade pigs thanks to the supply coming from the Uplands Bacon Factory.

It was this factory that provided the British troops with pork during the World War — when it became a major supplier for the military.


So central was this industry that the company would be protected by an Act of Parliament shortly after the Second World War.

A year after the war in 1945, the government enacted the Uplands Bacon Factory Act as a public company and gave the Pig Industry Board’s representative a chance to sit at the board.

A new modern factory had been built and it looked like Kenya would have a voice in the global pork industry thanks to Uplands Bacon Factory.

There were a few teething problems: At the time when the new Uplands factory was nearing completion, the export market was hit by losses due to a fall in the London prices; and there were excessive supplies from certain European countries due to refrigeration difficulties; and a London Dock strike.

In 1947, pioneer unionist Chege Kibachia, had walked into Uplands and organised one of the most successful strikes in the country earning him instant fame.

Although he was deported to Kabarnet and his case was discussed at the House of Commons in London, the strike was seen as an important achievement in the solidarity of workers; and Mr Kibachia’s African Worker’s Federation is today regarded as the pioneer workers’ union — thanks to the Upland Bacon Factory strike.


Uplands Bacon started having problems before independence by incurring heavy losses on exports to Britain.

The government agreed with the Pig Industry Board to take over Uplands Bacon Factory for a period of three years from 1958, and that is how Standard Bank came to its rescue.

The Pig Industry Board, whose basic function was to control the pig industry from birth to slaughter, had joined the company as a trustee and held one ordinary share while the balance was held by the Uplands Pig Suppliers Association. The Treasury also held one ordinary share.

Trouble started in 1986 when the Standard Bank, which held the shares on behalf of the Pig Industry Board, was asked by the Moi government to surrender back the Pig Industry Board’s ordinary share to the Uplands Pig Suppliers.

By then, the government had given the factory Sh15 million to sustain it operations.

Managers and directors seconded to the factory went on a looting spree — and the more money Treasury pumped here, the more was stolen.


Pig farmers who owned the factory quit business and soon it was closed down, albeit slowly.

That is how the void was filled by Farmer’s Choice, a private company, and Nairobi Airport Services. The latter had shareholding of powerful figures in the Moi government.

In September 1987, the government announced that revival of Uplands Bacon Factory was dead in the water and that it would be an expensive undertaking.

Reason: “It would be very expensive to rehabilitate it as the equipment was too old and it was not necessary to procure one.”

It was the Moi Cabinet which directed that the company be closed because it had injected Sh42 million which was either stolen or was used to pay the workers.

It was during this time that Tiny Rowland was given this factory in exchange for the Moi Airport land.

Parliament was told that the British tycoon “bought it from the receiver” and that he later sold it to Farmer’s Choice.

Actually, Tiny Rowland owned Farmers' Choice and what happened is that he sold the company to himself! And that is how Uplands farmers lost an industry.