- Like a phoenix, one of Kenya's most expansive ranches and perhaps the richest in terms of land resources, Purko Sheep Ranch owned by Purko Development Trust (PDT) is rising from ashes of neglect, mismanagement and corruption.
- PDT is implementing an ambitious turnaround strategy that could uplift the collective livelihoods of the over 500,000 strong member community.
- The Trust, registered under the Purko community of Narok County, was established in 1956 and has been operating as Purko Sheep Ranch with a focus on livestock breeding for sale.
Like a phoenix, one of Kenya's most expansive ranches and perhaps the richest in terms of land resources, Purko Sheep Ranch owned by Purko Development Trust (PDT) is rising from ashes of neglect, mismanagement and corruption.
PDT is implementing an ambitious turnaround strategy that could uplift the collective livelihoods of the over 500,000 strong member community.
The Trust, registered under the Purko community of Narok County, was established in 1956 and has been operating as Purko Sheep Ranch with a focus on livestock breeding for sale. Over the years it has expanded its ventures to include growing barley, wheat, potatoes and peas to fight poverty and advance education standards of the community.
It owns over 5,000 acres of land within Narok, out of which 3,200 acres are located in the Tipis, some 70 kilometres from both Narok and Nakuru towns while the rest is located in Entiani, Kisheldka and Naroosura.
Unlike other community-owned properties in Kenya, Purko Trust is unique as all the land resources belong to every community member, irrespective of his or her social status.
The Purko Sheep Ranch is managed under a trust deed and has an estimated asset portfolio of more than Sh500 million.
The community has access to its high quality breeds of sheep and cattle at a subsidised rate.
They also have access to clean wheat seeds and are allowed to graze their animals after wheat and barley is harvested. Fifty per cent of the 45 Purko Sheep Ranch staff come from the community, making it key employer.
For a long time it was largely underutilised due to mismanagement, but now with a new management in place, it appears to be on the path to recovery and profitability.
The Trust led by its chief executive officer Joseph Nkaiwuatei is seeking local and foreign investors to help it achieve its ambitious goals through the Public Private Partnership (PPP).
"Purko Trust Fund has gone through many challenges and my task is to spearhead the restructuring process. We have done a forensic audit to reorganise the ranch and reviewed the legal document and the trust deed as the property was affected by lack of accountability and transparency, which led to the encroachment of the community land," said Mr Nkaiwuatei who is a former Water Trust Fund trustee.
The Trust plans to invest in four major areas including the dairy sector, beef, wheat and potato farming.
"Our ultimate plan is to turn the Purko Sheep Ranch into a large scale dairy farm, which will finally culminate in the establishment of the mini processing plant and help farmers across this region transform the local economy," explained Mr Nkaiwuatei.
Besides dairy farming, the Trust plans to convert its 2,000-acre Naroosura Group Ranch into a beef farm.
"We are in discussion with key players in the sector who are willing to help us put up an abattoir for beef and mutton. I desire to make this ranch a disease-free zone and export livestock or meat which conforms to international standards."
Already, growing of potato on a commercial basis has gathered steam after the Trust identified an investor.
"Already we are in short-term agreement with a company called Fresh Crop for the production of seed multiplication and we intend to construct a cold store where farmers will be leasing the facility for preservation as they wait for the prices to appreciate in the market instead of the current situation where farmers sell their produce to middlemen at a throw-away price," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
The cold store will come as a big relief to farmers as they will also be able to access clean planting materials seeing as the Trust is planning to start bulking of seeds. Currently, as the farmers are forced to travel to Molo Agricultural Development Company in Molo, Nakuru to buy the seeds which don’t come cheap either.
For its wheat, the Trust is shopping for an investor to partner with to start a milling plant to take advantage of the agro-processing and value addition opportunity.
The changing climatic condition in the region has also been a major challenge to improved production and this was evident in 2019 when the farm suffered a major drop in wheat and barley production due to low rainfall.
"We have started a department to deal with the ecological changes and we are planting trees to increase the forest cover for the sake of cleaning the environment to mitigate effects of the climate change in the Mau region."
The outbreak of Covid -19 in 2020 dealt a big blow to the revitalisation process of the Trust and operations almost came to a standstill as production of some of the key crops such as barley was suspended.
In 2018, the Trust’s gross income was Sh84 million, which dropped to Sh32 million the following year and recorded massive losses in 2020.
"It was a tough year for us. We closed for some time as we observed the containment measures and this meant most of our services and operational came to a standstill. Some of the crop production such as barley was put on hold while in wheat we were forced to rely on self-financing mechanisms to buy seeds, fertilisers and other agrochemical products," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
With the expansive land, mechanisation is key to realising the Trust goals and it is in talks with an international investor to procure modern farming machines which wills see it fully utilise its land resources.
"The strategy is to partner with an international investor who is ready to pump in money to procure for us modern machinery such as tractors, combine harvesters and other agro-processing equipment," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
Barley production per acre has been dwindling in the past four years from a high of 30 bags to a low of 10 bags in the region and according to Mr Nkaiwuatei, this could be attributed to agrochemicals used to spray the crop, type of seeds and poor management of the land.
"I suspect the chemicals we're using are inactive as some of the weeds in our farms are resistant to the chemicals and coupled with overuse of the land, this has affected the production of barley and wheat," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
The CEO blamed the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) for failing to make an impromptu check on the kind of chemicals the farmers and such large farms are using.
"I have never seen officials of the PCPB visit our farms to check on the kind of products we're using and this, I believe, would be the best way to check whether the chemicals that have been approved are safe," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
The Trust plans is to diversify to other sectors such as horticulture, bee-keeping, fish farming, poultry, pig farming and rabbit as there is a huge potential.
"I want to leave Purko with milk processing plant, potato bulking and storage facility and an abattoir. I want to cultivate skilled manpower and competent staff in my tenure. I want to leave a well-grounded principle of accountability and transparency."
The Trust plans to start an agriculture training college at the ranch.
"The training college will be used for technology transfer and sustainability in the next two decades and beyond. We are in discussions with an investor," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
The Trust has three structures of management namely-general assembly made up of 200 representatives across the entire population of the community. The election of the members of the general assembly, which is the topmost decision making organ, is done through an electorate college process where positions are advertised and eligible members apply.
The assembly meets once a year to review the report of Trust and approved the financial year estimates. Answerable to the general assembly is the board of trustees, which is chaired by Bishop Peter Nakola and below the board, the management team that is led by Mr Nkaiwuatei.
Since the restructuring started, the community is now reaping some of the benefits of structured good management despite the current management inheriting a debt portfolio of about Sh26million.
"We have started Purko Secondary School by injecting Sh1 million, farmers have access to clean seeds, water, scholarships opportunities and bursaries among other benefits," said Mr Nkaiwuatei.
The trust owns huge parcels of land in Narok town which has been donated for public use in the education and health sectors.
Maasai Mara University is one of the beneficiaries as the Purko Community donated about 200 acres of land where the institution is located. Many primary and secondary schools have also reaped the benefits.