County governments in the North Rift are targeting investments in mining, tourism and sports industries to expand their economic base and diversify their revenue streams in order to stop over-reliance on the traditional maize and dairy sub-sectors.
The counties have set their sights on high profile local and international investors, a move that was jointly mooted under the nascent North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb).
One of the key aims of the bloc is to unlock investments in the region and enhance its status as the gateway to East and Central Africa.
Besides working together under Noreb, the counties have set individual priorities on economic and development projects.
Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis said Noreb, comprising eight counties, is working with county assemblies to develop laws that will foster business in the region.
“We want to involve the private sector to come up with a secretariat that will make the North Rift, which is the gateway to East and Central Africa, a business hub,” said Mr Kiptis, who took over from Mr Benjamin Cheboi after the August 8 General Election.
The Baringo County government is particularly banking on mineral exploration and sport tourism. Mr Kiptis said that Tullow Plc, the company behind the discovery of oil deposits in Turkana County, would soon roll out oil exploration in Kerio Valley after an agreement with the county government.
“Tullow Oil has identified more than 7,000 km2 Block 12A at Kerio Valley belt, which runs across Elgeyo-Marakwet and Baringo counties, as a potential area for oil exploration,” said Mr Kiptis.
Other resources that the counties are seeking to tap include solar, diatomite, geothermal and hydro energy. The leaders said if the resources are well utilised, they could turn around the region’s economy.
The Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) managing director David Kimosop said the agency, in conjunction with governors from arid counties, have already mapped out resources in the area and come up with a Regional Integrated Master Plan to guide exploitation of the same.
Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos says tourism in the region holds huge potential.
“As an economic bloc, we are keen on revival and expansion of tourism, especially sports and sight-seeing, as alternative sources of revenue,” said Mr Alex Tolgos, the governor of Elgeyo Marakwet County.
Other tourist attractions in the region include the white sands of Turkana, Rimoi National Reserve in Elgeyo Marakwet County, Sergoit Wildlife Reserve in Uasin Gishu, elephant caves of Mount Elgon (Bungoma County), and Lake Bogoria’s hot springs in Baringo County.
Noreb chairman Jackson Mandago, who is also the governor for Uasin Gishu, said the caucus is finalising on a framework to create a conducive business environment and is jointly working on multi-billion projects.
“We have achieved a lot under the economic bloc. We have controlled common livestock diseases such as foot and mouth by conducting joint vaccination. In the past, we had to close markets and sale-yards but this has not been the case recently,” Mr Mandago said. He added that for the region’s economy to be strong, it has to be underpinned by various vibrant sectors.
Uasin Gishu County boasts a potato chilling plant in Ainabkoi sub-county. The project is a partnership between the county government and investors from The Netherlands. The plant is meant to reduce post-harvest losses and offer value addition to farmers.
“This potato plant is the result of a Noreb investment conference. It will help create more employment opportunities for residents,” said Mr Mandago during the launch of the facility.
According to project manager Remko Kruithof from The Netherlands, the potato plant is one of its kind in Africa, considering that “it is maintenance-free and does not need electricity to operate”.
Trans Nzoia County has also benefited from a multi-million shilling processing plant to provide hybrid seeds to farmers and cut the costs of food production. The company, constructed on 65 acres of land, has begun processing seed varieties, with a one kilogramme bag of maize seeds going at Sh250 and a 10kg bag selling at Sh2,500.
The Sh300 million plant by African Seed Company at Kiminini was commissioned last year. It will cut market dominance by the government-owned Kenya Seed Company, which is also based in Trans-Nzoia, one of the country’s food baskets.
“The facility will enable us to generate seeds that will meet the region’s climatic conditions and offer resistance to pests and diseases,” said Mr Kassim Owino, managing director of Seed Co Kenya.
The seed research and processing company serves Western Kenya, eastern Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi.
Noreb counties are also set to benefit from Sh90 billion hydro and solar power projects under partnership with the Kenya Electricity Generating Company. The regional leaders say this will open up the area to diverse businesses and investments.