Lessons from a butcher in Laikipia County
How entrepreneur turned a simple abattoir into a meat and leather business

Text: Simon Mburu

Lessons from a butcher in Laikipia County
How entrepreneur turned a simple abattoir into a meat and leather business

Text: Simon Mburu
Rumuruti, in Laikipia County, is a cosmopolitan town where the large population is made up of pastoralists. Their main source of income is cattle rearing with minimal farming.

But besides the common feuds amongst the locals due to inevitable cattle rustling incidents, this is where Ndiritu Muriithi saw a goldmine and dared to establish Ngare Narok Meat Industries, an abattoir that produces meat for the local market.
The beginning: business or politics
This was back in the year 2007 and Muriithi was by then juggling between politics and business, both had the same similarity - uncertainty, on whether the two would succeed.

"He saw an opening that had the potential to grow while creating employment to the local population that is made up of pastoralists," said Francis Mwalili, the chief executive officer at Ngare Narok Meat Industries referring to his boss on his idea to set up the enterprise.

Like most start-ups, financing the enterprise was a big challenge and Muriithi turned to family and friends for investment. In 2008, Ngare Narok Meat Industries started operations by slaughtering around 30 heads of cattle a day. Today, the number is double the initial capacity. The facility is capable of processing 100 cows and 200 sheep and goats a day.
"Rumuruti is surrounded by the Samburu and Pokot communities who are pastoralists and this made it easier for us to source for the cattle just next to our facility that sits on 14 acres of land"
Francis Mwalili
CEO of the Ngare Narok Meat Industries
Diversification is the key
Worker at the factory
Mwalili recalls how the business was sluggish when they started off posting low profits but as days went by, more referrals came on board that eventually forced them to scale up their production.

"We diversified from the meat business to the hide and skin business to boost our revenues and make the most use of the end products from the animals" says Mwalili.

Ngare Narok partnered with the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, based at the Strathmore Business School. They offered them technical expertise and a sustainable model to produce organically tanned leather. The collaboration also included monetary assistance.

Apart from making organically tanned leather, Ngare Narok Meat Industries also diversified into manufacturing of organic fertiliser that is very rich in nitrogen and good for restoring soil nutrients.
Leather products by Ngare Narok
Capital is needed for growth
As the business grew, more capital was required to sustain the supply and the company had to scout again for the funds to enable expansion.
"Growth in business requires capital and this is when we approached Fanisi Capital, a private equity firm for funding. They invested a substantial amount of money in the business"
Francis Mwalili
CEO of the Ngare Narok Meat Industries
Mwalili does not disclose the amount of money Fanisi Capital invested in Ngare Narok Meat Industries

"What I know is that Fanisi Capital has a 40% stake in this company but I am not in a position to disclose more details as for now,'' he says.

The funds would later act as a big boost to the company as it helped deepen its penetration into manufacturing organically tanned leather and wallets.

Kenyans love for meat
Mwalili says Kenyans eat a lot of meat. He estimates that over 6,000 heads of cattle are slaughtered daily in abattoirs around the country. The numbers could be higher.

What determines the quality of the meat, I ask Mwalili.

"The lifestyle and the feeding habit of the animal determines the quality of the meat. Also, the longer the meat is chilled, the better," Mwalili said.

Francis Mwalili, the Ngare Narok Meat Industries Chief Executive Officer says Ngare Narok purposes to bring a whole new experience in how Kenyans and world all over enjoy their meat, "by matching consumers taste to our meat quality and curing process coupled by unique product presentation and first class service."
Today and tomorrow of the factory
Despite it's humble beginning, Ngare Narok Meat Industries has become a household name with a clientele base that includes institutions of higher learning, popular eateries in Nairobi and its environs, as well as in the retail sector.

The factory has 28 employees. The number is expected to grow as the market and product demand grows.

"The growth has been gradual and we expect to enter into regional markets in the near future," Mwalili predicts.

The company is setting up a processing plant in Kikuyu. Mwalili says the facility is meant to satisfy the increasing demand for meat products in East Africa. "The plant will process sausages, smokies, burgers, meat balls, minced meat, ham among other products. This expansion will provide about 96 job opportunities directly and over 345 jobs indirectly," he adds.
Unscrupulous traders threaten the industry
Car with illegal meat transported in bad conditions
The big challenge, he notes has been uncoordinated regulation of the meat business in Kenya that is eating into the profits of the approved dealers.

"Regulation of this business has never been fully enforced and this has been a big blow to genuine meat producers. Unscrupulous traders are taking advantage of the sector to sell unlicensed meat that poses a health hazard to consumers," he notes.

"They undercut the price to attract more buyers drawing away a big number of buyers who are not aware of the illicit trade," says Mwalili.

But this should not serve as a discouragement to aspiring entrepreneurs who may want to venture into this business.
"Dare to start small and grow gradually,"
said Ken Mbawaya as we parted.
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