Less than two years since it opened, Soko Mpya in Magumu, the gateway to Nyandarua, that remained abandoned for nearly a decade has suddenly become one of the busiest in the country, attracting thousands from across the country.
Most business is transacted between 4am and 6am during the official Tuesday and Friday market days.
Unfortunately, the county treasury does not benefit from the early morning trade due to glaring gaps in revenue collection. This is despite the government’s heavy investment in promoting a 24-hour-economy business centre.
About a year ago, traders previously operating at Soko Mjinga, about 500 metres from Soko Mpya, flocked the new market due to trading incentives and its safety and location.
Booming business has resulted in a 10 per cent increase in land prices, from Sh300,000 for a quarter-acre plot to Sh3 million.
The effects have been felt in smaller neighbouring markets, where a plot is selling for Sh800,000, up from between Sh150,000 and Sh200,000 less than two years ago.
The market has created more than 500 jobs for local youths who load and offload cargo.
Mr Samuel Mwangi arrives at the market at about 4am, heads to Mr Kogi Kinuthia hotel for breakfast and joins other loaders. He leaves two hours later to work on his farm, Sh2,000 richer.
Ms Joyce Mumbi arrives at around 5am armed with a container and a thermos flask full of porridge, and leaves the market 30 minutes later having earned between Sh1,500, on a normal market day, and up to Sh3,000 on main market days. Her customers are farmers arriving to sell their produce at that early hour.
Matatus do lucrative business carrying farm produce, making greater profits than when carrying passengers.
Innovative and hardworking civil servants and other workers are also among early arrivals to do business, before leaving the market by 5am to go to their day jobs.
Farmers living near the market, previously desperate to sell their land, are now reluctant to do so, opting to develop commercial and residential buildings.
Butcheries, bars and wines and spirits outlets are among the main new formal businesses, encouraged by the high population at the market.
The market is located on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway, about 25 kilometres from Naivasha town.
Local heavy trucks, pickups, matatus, and vehicles from the Coast region, Eastern, Central, Rift Valley, Western and North Eastern Kenya jam Soko Mpya from 2am to be loaded with perishables destined to various parts of the country.
Among the early arrivals is Mr Luka Ombari, from Kisii, who specialises in selling sugarcane.
“I left Kisii last evening to be here by 5am, sell my sugarcane and carry other items for my customers back home. I no longer need to drive to Marikiti or Githurai since Soko Mpya has enough customers for my sugarcane," he said.
"I also get everything I need for traders who send me to buy them some items and, here, I get them fresh from the farms without wasting fuel and time in traffic jams."
One unique feature making it easier to trade at the market is a system where the same type of food items are sold from a common section of the market, meaning cabbages will only be sold at a particular section, away from yams, sukuma wiki or carrots.
Traders from major towns including Nairobi and Nakuru are shifting base to the rural market, saying it has more opportunities.
Mr Patrick Muniu has moved his butchery from Nakuru town and now operates from new rising buildings at Soko Mpya.
Mr Moses Mwangi, who sold vehicle spare parts in Nairobi for over 15 years, has also shifted to Soko Mpya.
“I was on my way to Nakuru when I noticed the busy market. I alighted and spoke with the traders and customers, got convinced there is a big growth potential, and took the risk of closing my shop in Nairobi for a potato and vegetable business," he said.
"The market committee and the county government approved construction of the three shops which are now complete."
He intends to reinvest in the spare parts business, a butchery and other businesses in the area.
Offloading trucks starts at 4pm, climaxing around 11pm, paving the way for collection by buyers’ trucks early in the morning.
By 2am, most eateries in Soko Mpya are open to early customers arriving to sell or buy food items, mostly fresh agricultural produce.
Mr Gaitho Karanja, the market committee chairman, attributes the fast growth of the market to the conducive business environment created by the Nyandarua County government, market systems and discipline among the traders.
He observes that there have been fewer road accidents since traders moved to the new market.
“Construction of toilets, connection to water and electricity and the drilling of a borehole improved sanitation, and better security has motivated more traders and customers from all over the country to come here," he said.
"The market hosts 2,000 registered traders, a number that does not include the hundreds of farmers and workers who arrive at 4am to sell and go back home for other businesses."
On discipline, Mr Gaitho said use of vulgar language, insults or fighting among traders or with customers is prohibited and punishable with expulsion from the market.
County Trade Executive Raphael Njui said the market, sitting on one and a half acres, is being upgraded fir Sh30 million, adding that this will be done in phases.
Construction of an additional two modern market sheds, each at a cost of Sh10 million, has started, while private investors are also allowed to build shops in designated areas within the market.
With a growing population and booming business at the gateway to Nyandarua County, the traders want Governor Francis Kimemia’s administration to consider leasing or buying additional land from neighbouring residents.
Mr Njui said that though strategically placed, the opening of the market had remained only a dream due to conflicting interests, until December 2019 when his department brought in 16 traders.
“We had consultations with the 16 traders on how we could compensate them against losses incurred for lack of business at the new market," he said.W
"We then encouraged people to park or make a stopover at the market, and that real worked."
With increasing population and business, he said, the department is noting some challenges and gaps, most of them due to lack of space.
“We seriously need a bus park there but we do not have the space. But the economic impact of that market in the entire Nyandarua can be felt. What we did is we made it open so that anyone can load their farm produce, deliver and sell at the market without a hitch."
"All one needs to do is inform the market committee elected by the traders that they will be doing business on a specific day, so that they can be allocated convenient space."
The policy was formulated to ensure that the market is accessible to brokers and farmers from Nyandarua and other counties.
Goods tracing system
With the construction of the Sh30 million sheds, the county government will introduce a goods tracing system, so that traders or farmers selling substandard farm produce can be identified.
“We want to make it an international market, but we must also have some mechanisms in place to ensure all standards are met such that poor quality goods do not affect the market business in future,” Mr Njui said.
Traders or farmers coming to the market to sell will have their details captured, including the type of food items they sell and to what destination.
“We shall work with the Agriculture department to ensure quality production and that only permitted farm chemicals are used in farms. We will increase hygiene in the handling of the foods. We will make it very unique, to become a one-stop market for local and export markets,” he said.
On the county losing revenue from the early morning trade, Mr Njui said the focus of the county government is not on how much revenue they collect but on promoting a conducive environment for business and investments, which has long-term benefits in revenue collection.
He said revenue collection has doubled to Sh15,000 on a normal day.
“You have seen new upcoming buildings that were never there before. Businesses in those buildings are our main target for revenue. Tower Sacco, Equity Bank, and other finance institutions have applied to open branches at Soko Mpya. Those are the dynamics and enablers we are focused on as the county government,” said the executive.