Located about 10 kilometres from Nyahururu town along the Nyeri-Nyahururu road, the town is popular for its open-air market selling fresh produce from farms.

| Waikwa Maina | Nation Media Group

Mairo-Inya: A town driven by necessity and circumstance

Located in the heart of Nyandarua, Mairo-Inya town has long been considered one of the gems of the county due to its high revenue generation.

The town, which serves as the gateway to Nyahururu in neighbouring Laikipia County, has witnessed a complex interplay of growth and challenges over the years.

As El Niño rains continue to hit the area, traders and visitors have had to contend with mud, filthy potholes and clogged trenches because the town lacks proper waste management and drainage systems.

The lack of essential services, including a designated market, has long forced traders in the agricultural-rich county to operate along the busy Nyeri-Nyahururu-Nakuru highway, raising safety concerns.

The situation is worse on market days (Sunday, Tuesday and Friday) when traders from as far afield as Maralal in Samburu County, Nyeri, Nairobi, Nakuru, Gilgil and Naivasha throng the small town, turning it into a bustling commercial hub.

But despite its historical significance as one of the oldest towns in Nyandarua County, Mairo-Inya is at a crossroads, facing a myriad of challenges.

"The biggest challenge is the lack of land for expansion. The town is located and surrounded by private land on one side and a police station and primary school on the other," says Winfred Njeri,  a trader, adding that this has contributed to the town's stagnation.

Recognising the urgent need for change, plans are underway to transform Mairo-Inya into a model town, with support from the World Bank. The county government has earmarked funds for an ambitious upgrading programme, focusing on improving footpaths, drainage systems and essential services such as waste management.

Trader and Cooperative Executive member Njunji Wamahiga acknowledges the challenges facing traders but says the aim is not only to address the immediate challenges facing the town but also to lay the foundations for sustainable growth and development.

Mairo-Inya town, Nyandarua County. The town has experienced a complex interplay of growth and challenges over the years. The proposed Mairo-Inya Municipality will cover 246 square kilometres with a population of 67,000.

Photo credit: Waikwa Maina | Nation Media Group

"We understand the plight of the traders, but the wheels of change are in motion. The World Bank has agreed to support the town by giving it the upgrade of a municipality at a cost of about Sh500 million. The county government has allocated Sh100 million as seed money for the upgrading programme," said Ms Wamahiga.

She says the county government has already advertised for the positions of municipality board and manager.

The town's history includes recurrent fire incidents, believed to be started intentionally as part of business rivalries originating from investors in Nyahururu town, highlighting complexities of growth, development, and competition in emerging urban centres.

Located about 10 kilometres from Nyahururu town along the Nyeri-Nyahururu road, the town is popular for its open-air market selling fresh produce from farms.

This has contributed to its rapid growth.

Only four wooden houses

Mr Philip Kamau came to Mairo-Inya market 50 years ago when the town had only four wooden houses.

"We had a fire every month, we had to rebuild the houses. Its proximity to the already established town of Nyahururu gave us hope that one day, Mairo-Inya would also grow," said Mr Kamau.

Another trader, Mr Gabriel Thumbi, one of the earliest settlers, says Mairo-Inya has grown from a residential suburb to a commercial hub, with investors and banks now gradually jostling for space.

One of the town's distinguishing features, he says, is its lack of colonial ties, which has grown over the years.

"While neighbouring towns may have historical ties, especially those related to colonialism, Mairo-Inya's growth has been driven by necessity and circumstance. The lack of space for expansion within established towns has played a crucial role in triggering Mairo-Inya's rapid growth. The community around the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway began to subdivide their land into smaller plots, laying the foundation for the town's development, Mr Thumbi explained.

He continued: "The town started in the early 1970s with one shop compared to Nyahururu town which started in 1929 and its growth was spurred by the presence of the railway line and tourists visiting Thomson Falls."

Mr Reuben Waiganjo recalls that the town began to take shape in the 1980s, but with more wooden houses, making it a residential town for low-income earners and informal traders from Nyahururu town.

"The process of upgrading Mairo-Inya to a town started more than five years ago, a process that has been embraced by locals and potential investors," says Mr Waiganjo.

An increase in land prices

Statistics from the county revenue department support Mr Waiganjo's statement, showing an increase in land prices over the past five years, as well as improved revenue collection by the County Government.

The economic impact of Mairo-Inya's transformation is already evident in the changing dynamics of land prices and revenue collection.

Over the past five years, land prices have more than doubled, reflecting increased investor interest. Subdividing land into plots has become a lucrative business, with investors vying for space in the burgeoning town.

Revenue collection has grown significantly from Sh37 million to Sh154 million in the last four years. Single business permits have recorded the highest growth, rising from Sh11 million in the 2018/2019 financial year to Sh46 million last year.

Matters related to land transactions, particularly land subdivisions, have become a significant contributor to the town's revenue, highlighting Mairo-Inya's attractiveness to investors.

Plot of land

A plot of land outside the CBD that sold for between Sh200,000 and Sh300,000 five years ago now sells for between Sh500,000 and Sh700,000 depending on its location.

Notably, land transactions are the third highest revenue earner in Mairo-Inya at Sh15,734,162, with land subdivision taking the lead at Sh11,992,935, explaining the encouraging rate at which investors are descending on the town ahead of the full establishment of the municipality.

In 2019, revenue generated from land subdivision was only Sh2, 884, 075, while land rates collected were Sh1,036,531 and now stand at Sh3, 741, 227, a more than double increase.

The proposed Mairo-Inya Municipality will cover an area of 246 square kilometres with a population of 67,000 in parts of four wards - Ndaragua Central, Leshao Pondo and Kiriita wards all in Ndaragua Constituency and Gatimu ward in Ol Joro Orok Constituency.

Part of Kiriita Forest will also come under the municipality to promote ecotourism, as well as Lake Olbolosat, the only lake in Central Kenya, which Mr Thumbi says with revival and good management, will be a major stopover and resting place for tourists, adding to the county's revenue kitty and business opportunities for locals.

The impending municipality status heralds a new chapter for Mairo-Inya and opens the door to increased support from the World Bank and other development partners.

Nyandarua Governor Dr Kiarie Badilisha expresses the county government's readiness to facilitate the upgrade, emphasising the need for comprehensive transformation.

"The World Bank will support the development of the municipality with 50 per cent of the total revenue collected by the government, which currently stands at over Sh50 million. Our target, and with many investors showing interest in coming to Mairo-Inya Municipality, we are optimistic of increasing our revenue to Sh264,404,710 by the 2025/2026 financial year," said Governor Badilisha.

He added: "We are going to buy land for a dumpsite which has been a major challenge for the town for decades, the town has no proper market and that will also be done, a sewerage system and vibrant marketing of the town by the relevant departments."

"The market has met all the requirements in terms of population and size, the residents and traders have suffered for decades from the lack of basic services such as water, sanitation and better health among others, but their day of rejoicing has come. We have already appointed a Municipal Manager to manage and steer the growth of the municipality," said Governor Badilisha.

The town's strategic location on the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway, coupled with its accessibility to traders from within and outside the county, positions Mairo-Inya as a potential economic powerhouse.