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Enterprise

Why ban on plastic bags was godsend for women group

baskets for sale
A business lady arranges her baskets ready for sale within and outside Lodwar open market on 5/2/2020. PHOTO | PETER WARUTUMO 

A group of Women in Turkana County are reaping big by making eco-friendly shopping bags. And the venture is thriving thanks to government ban on plastic carrier bags.

The women who for many years had been depending on relief supplies for sustenance are now self-reliant as they can generate enough funds to buy food and educate their children.

Mary Erakai from Kerio, Turkana Central is one of the members of Kerio Basket Makers’ Self-help group. She says she has benefitted immensely from the scheme.

“We are receiving a lot of orders from cereal and fruit vendors who are switching from plastic to biodegradable bags,” says Ms Erakai, a mother of six said.

The group of 20 pooled resources, with each member contributing Sh1,000 to raise capital for the business that has been growing since it was started two years ago.

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“There is steady market for the decomposable bags in western Kenyan region with the carriers going for between Sh300 and Sh1,500 depending on size, quality of material and face paint,” Ms Erakai says.

The banned plastic bags were popular among vegetable, fruit and snack dealers as well as tree seedlings growers.

The Ministry of Environment introduced a fine of Sh50,000 for anyone found with plastic shopping bags while manufactures flouting the ban would be fined between Sh2 million and Sh4 million. This has led to shift to the environment-friendly baskets.

“The demand for the eco-friendly bags has taken a new twist since the ban of plastic bags was introduced. We can now receive a lot of orders which translates to high profit enabling us to be self-reliant and sustain our families,” says Salome Ekuam, a member of the group.

Her effort has in recent months transformed her from a housewife to an employer setting up business outlets in Lodwar, Kakuma and Lokichar Towns.

She pays an average of Sh15,000 monthly to the five women she has employed to weave the products in the outlets.

“The business has enabled me to take my children to school and afford a decent meal,” says Mrs Erakai.

Two of her children are in secondary school while the rest are in primary and she comfortably meets their needs, thanks for the steady income from the basketry business.

The group received support recently from the Hunger Safety Net Programme which also encouraged them to make mats and brooms.

“The steady income from the basketry has empowered most of the members to diversify to cereal business and other micro-finance investments which has transformed their lives for the better,” Ms Erakai says.

But there is no business without challenges.

“The poor state of roads-linking Lodwar Town and Makutano in West Pokot and Kitale in Trans Nzoia remains our main short coming. We cannot expand our market share due to the dilapidated state of the roads and fear of attacks by bandits along the highway,” Ms Erakai explains.

Lack of market information has exposed the emerging entrepreneurs to exploitation by cartels who offer low prices for the commodities and sell at exorbitant prices, earning abnormal profits.

“In most cases we, sell our products to middle men who emerge as major beneficiaries since they enjoy market links in other parts of the country,” Ms Ekuam disclosed.

The government has however beefed security along the Lodwar- Makutano highway and repair the road to boost trade in the three countries.

Turkana county government is likewise supporting the women entrepreneurs by offering them loans and market information to empower them expand their businesses.

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