What you need to know:
- Land adjacent to the tarmac, which was being used for grazing, has been cleared for commercial development.
- Expansive greenhouses have mushroomed as investors capitalise on ease of movement.
- Laikipia is the latest frontier for horticultural investment.
The landscape of Laikipia County is fast changing.
Scores of shiny greenhouses are popping up in the countryside, replacing what has been rolling plains of grazing land, shrubs and bushes.
Driving along the newly-tarmacked Rumuruti-Sipili-Kinamba road in the west, vast swathes of land adjacent to the tarmac, which for ages have only been used for grazing, have been fenced off and cleared for commercial development.
The completion of this transformative transport infrastructure a year ago has attracted new businesses.
Expansive greenhouses have mushroomed as investors capitalise on ease of movement provided by the tarmacked road to access virgin land.
“With no permanent rivers, the horticultural entrepreneurs are using underground water. That’s why, as a government, we are now focusing on harnessing water to bring in even small-scale farmers on board to increase the acreage under irrigation,” says Laikipia County Water Executive Mr Njenga Kahiro.
Laikipia is the latest frontier for horticultural investment.
According to the county’s 2019 statistical abstract, the land under irrigation has increased 15 times in a span of two years –- from 258 hectares in 2016 to 3,758 hectares in 2018.
Dozens of shopping centres are springing up along the highway with entrepreneurs striving to meet the housing demand for the growing number of labourers working in the horticultural farms.
Thanks to the robust road network, horticultural firms are now able to source labourers from far-flung areas with ease, to the convenience of the workers who are picked up and dropped by buses just a walking distance from home.
In its latest survey on overall county business environment for MSEs, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy and Research Analysis (Kippra) ranked Laikipia among the top five counties.
Luoniek shopping centre on the extreme north-western edge of the county seems to vindicate this survey as it has seen the number of licensed retail businesses grow from 50 to 120 in less than three years.
The county’s new appeal to investment is not only in the horticultural sub-sector.
A local airline, Let’s Fly Aviation, recently started four flights daily between Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and the Nyahururu-Nanyuki route.
“We are providing these services to meet the rising demand for air travel for business people, professionals and tourists who seek faster links to Nairobi and beyond,” Captain Allan Mwangi, a pilot with the airline, told the Nation.
Retail chain store Tuskys started operations at the Nanyuki Shopping Mall where it replaced Choppies as the anchor tenant.
"In 2018, the county’s tourism grew by 12.5 per cent with international tourism increasing by 37 per cent and local tourism by nine per cent," says Trade, Tourism and Cooperatives Executive Biwott Tirop.
Recently, the county held its third edition of the Nanyuki-Luoniek Amateur Fun Race which involves driving across the scenic Laikipia North in a convoy of vehicles to promote corporate tourism.
Several new hospitality establishments have upped the stake for the growth of the county as a tourism destination.
High-end luxury hotels firm Elewana has added Loisaba Lodo Springs as its 15th establishment in its portfolio, located within the 57,000-acre Loisaba Conservancy.
Mugie Conservancy has also opened Governors Camp Hotel.
Other key investments in the Laikipia tourism landscape include a Sh1 billion hotel coming up on a 200-acre piece of land at the Ilng'wesi Group Ranch in Laikipia North and a new 48-room hotel coming up in Nyahururu town.
Mr Tirop attributes the robust business activity to an efficient business licensing regime and the cleaning up and digitisation of the Nanyuki lands registry.
“We have made deliberate efforts to promote tourism and enhance the business environment through innovative ways,” he says.
Infrastructure upgrade has also led to a near-craze sub-division of land and a flurry of property sales as real estate firms pitch tent in Laikipia seeking to satisfy the growing demand to own a house.
Regeneration of smaller market centres under the county’s smart towns initiative has led to an upsurge in property value as speculators rush to gain a foothold in the area.