In 2015, Humphrey Kiruki took a friend to view his 60-acre farm in Meru. The visit involved inspecting trees he had planted years back. But this journey would go off track after his vehicle got stuck in a muddy stretch of the farm, forcing them to spend the night in Meru.
That experience is what inspired his current business, Charanna Farm, a name coined from his parents’ names, Charles and Anna. It is one of the region’s top off-road motor sports and team building destinations.
“When I acquired the land in the semi-arid Subuiga area along the Meru-Nanyuki Road in 2005, my intention was to do farming and plant trees,” he says.
Kiruki, who ran a shipping agency business in the coastal city of Mombasa, went ahead and planted thousands of eucalyptus trees in the farm. In 2016, a global recession fell on his shipping agency business like a sledge hammer, volumes went down, profits shrunk and multinationals opened offices locally, eating into the little business left. That muddy encounter at the farm, as well as the global occurrence, motivated him to implementing his current business.
“I am a sporting enthusiast and I had discovered Meru residents love motor sport. This is when I resolved to start organising off road competitions now known as the Mt Kenya 4 by 4 Challenge,” he explains, describing Charanna Farm as a motorsports sanctuary that also offers rock crawling and drifting.
Besides these activities, others offered at the expansive farm include zip lining, camping, team building sports and hiking.
“I started small, and over time, I have invested more than Sh1 million into the adventure facility. After moving from Mombasa in 2016, I hired an excavator to dig up several mud holes for the 4 by 4 challenge. I also put up a farm house and a few other facilities,” says Kiruki.
He says he spent about Sh400,000 in preparing the motor sport track and putting up a number of structures in the farm. He has been gradually improving facilities at the venue spending more than Sh1 million in the last five years.
Recently, the adventure destination added to its offerings with the establishment of a 70-meter-long children’s zip line and a 300-meter-long adults zip line.
He has also built a 95 feet wooden ladder, dubbed ‘Jacob’s ladder’, that descends to nearby caves and nature trails.
“The adult zip line runs over a 130 feet deep gorge, giving visitors an exciting and thrilling ride. We are doing everything possible to make it fun to visit and spend time at Charanna,” he says.
For the 4 x 4 challenge, Kiruki charges Sh3,500 for experts’ category, Sh2,500 and Sh2,000 for the intermediate learners and beginners. Junior drivers take part in the motor sport for free while spectators pay a gate fee of Sh500. He charges Sh1,000 for the zip line and Sh500 to scale Jacob’s Ladder, which leads to the Mau Mau caves.
“Off-road motor sport is gaining a lot of traction among drivers in Meru. The sport includes various barriers such as steep tracks and mud holes, among other barriers that the driver must navigate without breaking the rules,” he says.
The businessman has organised up to 20 events since he started hosting the Mt Kenya 4 by 4 Challenge in 2017.
“An event can raise up to Sh300,000 in revenue besides the income we get from groups and corporates who come for team building,” Kiruki explains.
He partners with service providers such as catering, entertainment and public address service providers to pull off the events.
“I also promote tree planting through the Save our Rivers initiative, largely because the farm is located in an area where water is scarce.
His biggest challenge has been financing to develop the facility. For instance, he had to put up the zip line in bits using the profits he made.
"I started by buying the metal frames, the wire rope and other materials five years ago. I finally managed to complete it this year," he says, adding that water for creating mud challenges during the events comes at a high cost.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also not been kind to the business, which came to a standstill after the government banned public gatherings. In spite of all these, Kiruki is optimistic of a brighter future for his venture.