Ideas & Debate

Nakuru City can grow agricultural industries

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An aerial view of Nakuru town as seen on November 30, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Nakuru will need to correctly designate outlying areas for new industrial locations, higher and middle-income estates, and various institutions.
  • With the driving time significantly shortened by the planned highway from Rironi to Mau Summit, Nakuru can be an attractive weekend destination for local tourism.

Last week I attended the ceremony bestowing city status on Nakuru, and this prompted me to reflect on the socio-economic history of the town, and enormous opportunities ahead. Getting a city status is an achievement in itself as it upscales physical planning, economic development modelling and governance standards. All these will definitely attract new investors and development partnerships.

Before Independence, Nakuru was the national hub for commercial agriculture. However, this appears to have shifted to Eldoret followed by rapid agricultural decline in both areas during the 1990s.

Since then, Nakuru has remained essentially a transit economy for road transport between East and West of Kenya. Devolution also diminished Nakuru’s administrative activities when the town ceased to be a provincial headquarter.

Smart master planning I am sure will be the starting point to create a new city. Useful learning points can borrow from how Nairobi has expanded outwards over the past twenty years.

Nakuru will need to correctly designate outlying areas for new industrial locations, higher and middle-income estates, and various institutions. This should be followed by the provision of roads, water, and power to these areas. It is this physical planning and mapping that will advise investors where to put their capital.

An early economic opportunity to leverage is the lake and the game park. With the driving time significantly shortened by the planned highway from Rironi to Mau Summit, Nakuru can be an attractive weekend destination for local tourism. Correctly located quality hotels and conference facilities will add value to Lake Nakuru tourism, offering an alternative option to Naivasha.

However, it is agricultural industries that Nakuru should aim at excelling in, leveraging on Nakuru, and neighbouring counties’ agricultural produce. And I have in mind value-adding processing of produce which includes pyrethrum, potatoes, horticulture, grains, dairy, and wool. Farming of these will need to be simultaneously scaled up with the full support of the county governments.

The Menengai geothermal energy is another economic opportunity that should be harnessed for both agricultural and general industries. For me, this should be a critical focus for the new city planners due to geothermal potential to attract easy “green” funding for new investments. Geothermal steam is also inherently cheaper than other energy types.

Naivasha niche

The airport under construction at Lanet can be targeted for direct exports of produce to Europe and other global markets while supporting tourism and business travel. However, the ease of transport afforded by the planned highway will likely make Lanet airport less of an option for travellers from Nairobi.

Nakuru City and Naivasha Municipality may be in the same county but in reality, they will be competitors for investment opportunities.

The county government will need to ensure that competition between the two entities is managed to avoid wasteful duplication of investments. Each should pick and excel in those opportunities that add the most value to the county and the country.

Naivasha has developed a niche status for local tourism, horticulture, geothermal energy, and is an emerging rail transport hub.

From what I heard at the city launch ceremony, the county government has a clear path on how to move Nakuru to a modern city.

If smartly implemented, the city project will indeed rapidly change the socio-economic dynamics of Nakuru and the neighbouring counties.

Cleanest town

And this should include making Nakuru city and its outlying environs an industrial hub especially in support of the ongoing agricultural rejuvenation.

The city should also plan on regaining the pre-Independence label of the cleanest town in East Africa, knowing that a positive city image starts with how it is aesthetically planned and serviced with due care for the environment.

Some history. My first trip to Nakuru was as a “local tourist” in 1960. My primary school in Nyeri had organised a one-day school tour with three Rift Valley destinations — Lake Nakuru, Thomson Falls ( Nyahururu waterfalls), and a zoo at Carr Hartley’s farm near Rumuruti.

This was a few months after Mau Mau emergency lockdown had been officially lifted by colonial Governor Patrick Renison allowing Central Province people to freely travel outside their districts after nearly eight years.