Business enterprises owned by refugees and locals in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, Turkana West sub-county, will benefit from grants of between Sh1.5 million to Sh5 million to stimulate their growth.
This is after the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank, and the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund ( AECF) unveiled a Local Enterprise Development Window of the Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund on Tuesday.
"We exclusively target at least 100 local small and medium enterprises owned and operated by residents of Turkana County, including the host community and refugees with special focus on expanding the horizon of opportunities for women and creating opportunities for young people," AECF chief executive Victoria Sabula said.
The enterprises, which must be operating in Kakuma and Kalobeyei or in other towns in Turkana but willing to expand to Kakuma, must first demonstrate that they have the capacity to absorb the capital, their business proposals are sustainable and assure development impact.
"We envisage that supported businesses will generate employment, improve services and increase consumer choices for the people of Turkana County," she said.
Eligible businesses will benefit from advisory support focused on business development, financial management, marketing, and publicity.
Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok said that the initiative, which will also be implemented in partnership with his administration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will make the local economy thrive as many people will be employed.
He challenged locals to explore business opportunities in the fishing sector on Lake Turkana, the livestock sector, which has three million cattle, and 13 million goats and sheep, the mining sector and irrigated agriculture.
"Up to 98 percent of our businesses are informal and my government is keen to strengthen service delivery as well as create a favourable environment to conduct business,” he said.
“This competition that will run from September 14 to November 5 affirms our continued commitment to exploring new opportunities and deploying innovative solutions to better address the financing needs of businesses and accelerate economic growth in Turkana."
Vulnerable segments of society
He observed that it is only the private sector that can grow an economy, with the government in place providing a conducive environment like roads, water and health services, physical planning and security, as well as legislation that supports businesses to thrive.
He said the initiative embodies the spirit of integration and economic empowerment of communities, a key goal of the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Programme in Turkana West sub-county that is home to about 454,000 people, 200,000 of them refugees.
Reports indicate that the Kakuma camp is an entrepreneurial hub, with 12 percent of refugees owning businesses.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Turkana chapter chairman Pius Ewoton welcomed the initiative, noting that enterprises play a key role in shaping national growth strategies, employment generation and social cohesion by improving the standard of living of vulnerable segments of society.
He said that support for SMEs was a key component in enhancing urbanisation in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, which host refugees.
"The Sh2.5 billion Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund is a competitive financing mechanism that will incentivise private sector investments in the refugee-hosting areas of Kakuma and Kalobeyei to enable better economic integration of displaced populations and their hosts," he said.
He said the business lobby will sensitise members to ensure that they conform with the laid-down requirements.
He noted that the county has a total of 7,750 businesses, half of them retail shops.
The major challenges facing growth of businesses, he said, was lack of collateral as residents don't have title deeds and are subjected to non-tariff taxation.
Locals have welcomed the initiative, saying it will address high poverty rates by providing opportunities for employment to many locals and refugees.
"With employment, many of us, especially the youth, will be self-reliant and able to provide food for our families who face hunger and starvation due to drought," said Paul Jalinga, a youth leader.
He also noted that boosting businesses in refugee camps will provide them with alternative livelihoods and they will not rely on food donations.