Young woman makes a killing in Gulf meat export business


Doreen Gacheri, founder of Moissanite, a firm that exports meat to Gulf countries. PHOTO | POOL

The meat export business can be as lucrative business as it can also be ruinous. To succeed, one not only has to be careful not to bite more than they can chew, but also ensure that their product is right for the market.

Ms Doreen Gacheri is among traders who’ve found success in the sector that ships over Sh4 billion meat to Gulf countries, Kenya’s top export market.

The public relations professional cut her teeth in the business in 2014, exporting food items such as onions, packed maize flour, and processed cooking oi to Seychelles.

“I always knew I wanted to do business. After school, I worked for my father before moving to Seychelles when I got married. Seychelles depends a lot on imports. There in a huge Kenyan community living there. I saw an opportunity and started the business” says Ms Gacheri who is in her early 30s.

By the time she moved back to Kenya in 2018 she had gained enough experience and so reached out to a friend farming avocados and for a while continued exporting them to Seychelles.

But the returns were not great and set her eyes Gulf countries that rich and reliant on food imports.

She started with vegetables and fruits such as avocados and mangoes. Ms Gacheri, however soon realised that the market was not an easy nut to crack as she had assumed.

There were numerous prohibitive requirements such as phytosanitary certificates from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, Horticultural Crops Directorate, and GlobalGAP for approvals of soils, water and manure testing.

She decided to switch to a less restrictive product and meat came highly recommended. Since 2019 she has been exporting lamb and goat meat to Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates, which make up the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,slaughtering over 1,000 animals in a day when demand is high.

“When I started I knew the line I wanted to take. The food market is so big because it is a necessity,’’ she says.

The export starts with sourcing the right animals. She relies on three regions for the animals depending on the sheep breed – Moyale and Marsabit of the blackhead Persian breed, Kajiado and Basil for Dorper and Molo and Nanyuki for Merino.

“You could either go to the farmers and buy from them or get suppliers to bring the animals to the slaughterhouse. I choose the type of animals and quality then pay them. Relying on the suppliers is easier because we do quantities. Also going to most of these areas would need us to understand the local language,” she adds.

“But when suppliers say they can’t meet the quantity, I have to go to the farms to look for the animals.”

After sourcing, she has to ensure that the slaughtering is done right. Since the export markets are majority Muslim populated, the meat can only come from an halal slaughterhouse.

On the day of this interview, she had just prepared to export three tonnes and 2.3 tonnes of meat from 600 animals slaughtered – 150 goats and 450 lambs.

She says Mondays are usually busy says, having not slaughtered over the weekend, and often times her firm Moissanite manages up to ten tonnes of meat which is 1,000 animals. In this case, she can spent Sh4.5 million in purchase of the animals if the estimated price was Sh4,500 each.

With the Ramadhan season starting on April 2, she expects the orders to increase up to 40 tonnes.

Currently, she is selling a blackhead for $5.2 (Sh592.8) per kilo and this is also seen going up to about $5.7 (Sh649.8), due to demand and low supply of animals amid shortage from increased orders in the Kenyan market as well.

Once the animals are slaughtered, they are put in the chiller in the abattoir.

The meat is maintained completely dry and then exported after a minimum of 24 hours.

The charges paid to the abattoir are inclusive of slaughtering, chilling, packaging and transporting to the airport.

“Quality is key in the export market. There are standards like health and regulations in line with that country."

“The market is also very specific on kilos and gender which has to be male animals.”

For lamb and goat meat, export documents include airway bill which is a booking confirmation form airline, certificate of origin from the Kenya Revenue Authority and Kenya National Chamber of Commerce charged Sh700 on every order.

This also includes a halal certificate to show it follows practices under Islamic law, veterinary certificate stating condition of the meat including free from influenza, Rift Valley Fever (RVF), anthrax and chemical components.

Tough standards on meat had seen Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain ban Kenya’s meat last year due to RVF. The restrictions on the exports were, however, lifted. Qatar is yet to lift the ban.

For Ms Gacheri, however, she has been depending on her Tanzanian business to circumvent the Qatar ban. From Tanzania she sources animals and exports their meat directly to Qatar.

She plans to open a slaughterhouse to support her export business, as she also plants to venture into Jordanian and Iraqi markets.

“I want to specialise in proper cuts and processing. The factory will also support my business and that of others,” she says.

But the trader still faces unique challenges, like freight rates fluctuations, offload delays, fewer flights in most cases depending on one airline, and gender stereotypes.

There is also a risk of loss of cargo once at the export destination, which means one would not be paid their goods.

This has pushed some exporters like Gacheri to adopt free on board contracts or employ locals in those countries.

“Amid many exports, we are relying on one airline. If it were dry goods we would use connection flights, but these are perishable produce hence we need direct flights to sustain the freshness.”

Despite all this, she admits that the business has been lucrative, but capital intensive at start.

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