At 5 am, just as the day is dawning, Peter Mwangi turns off his alarm, jumps out of bed, and heads to the shower. In two minutes, he is done. He dresses, eats breakfast, and is out the door by half-past the hour.

As Peter walks to his workstation just 200 meters from where he lives, his mobile rings. It’s Michael Kuria, the stockist for Farmer’s Choice Ltd (FCL) products in Ruiru town, Kimbo area. “Good morning Michael. Are you at the shop yet? I am headed there for my day’s supply,” he says, smiling.

Arriving at his workstation, the 25-year-old sets up shop: He gets his cleaning items, grabs his trolley, and meticulously cleans it. He then lights up his jiko (portable stove) and places it in the compartment underneath the trolley. A final stop at Michael’s shop to collect the day’s supply of smokie (sausage) products, and Peter is ready to start the day.

A smokie vendor with FCL for two years now, Peter is a final year student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture, Food, and Beverage. He takes online classes Monday to Thursday; and Friday through the weekend, he attends classes in person. In his absence, his employee runs the trolley.

Peter invested capital of KES 2,000 (US$ 18) in the smokie vending business. Already owning a trolley, he used the capital to give it a facelift and meet market standards. He started by selling one packet of smokies as a trial. Now two years later, he is selling over eight packets and making a daily gross profit of about KES 2,000 (US$ 18).

“I am happy that with this business, I am able to support myself and support my parents in paying school fees for my younger siblings. It is a good business as it allows me to study as well”, Peter says.

In the late 1990s, Farmer’s Choice Ltd – a project company of Industrial Promotion Services (IPS) – began supporting the smokie business in Kenya, which in the eyes of many may not seem like a lucrative business, but has created employment for many people – especially amongst the youth. With about KES 10,000 (US$ 91) to buy the trolley and smokie products, one is ready to get started. Investments can be recuperated quickly as daily earnings generate profits of KES 2,000-3,000 (US$ 18-27) on average.

Today, FCL is working with thousands of smokie vendors countrywide, many of whom are reporting significant gains in income and better prospects.

A few meters from Peter’s trolley is 29-year-old vendor Edwin Kamau, previously unemployed when he decided to try his luck in the smokie business. Five years later Edwin is happy that he is his own boss and can support himself and his parents.

Another 200 meters away is Elizabeth Wangari, a mother of two children who started her own smokey trolley after covering for a friend on a maternity break.  One year into the business she is pleased to report:  “I am now comfortably saving up to buy a piece of land as part of my retirement plan and [send] my youngest son to college.”

Safe smokies during the pandemic

By 6 am, the early bird customers are already flocking.

“Please wash your hands here first,” Peter points them to the handwashing station next to his trolley and provides them with paper towels to dry their hands and a trash can to avoid littering. To maintain hygiene and cleanliness he has placed sauce bottles behind the trolley display so that only he can access and touch them. He also has a pay bill number for his customers to encourage digital transactions rather than touching money.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, FCL has worked closely with smokie vendors to ensure that they remain in business and in compliance with new sanitary measures. It has organized educational training for the vendors in various locations. They were trained on proper hygiene and sanitation, how to wear masks, and the importance of social distancing in addition to other safety guidelines as directed by the Government for food vendors. Moreover, FCL has donated hand sanitizers and masks to the vendors and subsidized their smokie prices.

This article was adapted from a story published on the IPS website.

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