Photo: KAREL PRINSLOO/AP/SIPA
The Africa Report
A Nairobi tarpaulin manufacturer has a plan to help local companies win aid contracts that usually go to Asia.
When international agencies in Nairobi put out tenders for items such as buckets, blankets and mosquito nets, Kenyan manufacturers often miss out.
With high transport costs, no petrochemical industry and intermittent energy supplies, Kenyan products often cost more than alternatives and do not meet the exacting standards of UN-backed aid agencies.
A new joint venture seeks to bring more Kenyan manufacturers into the supply chain for the aid industry.
“We’re trying to put together a manufacturing aid zone,” says Simon Lucas, chief executive of Reltex Tarpaulins (Africa), the Kenyan wing of a UK-based firm.
Lucas says Kenyan manufacturers need to be better coordinated to win contracts to supply items for ‘non-food item’ kits that typically contain such articles as a tarpaulin, bucket, mosquito net, blanket and basic cooking equipment.
“There are many companies here that make these tools, but they don’t make the kits,” says Lucas. “We hope to act as a bridge to all the individual companies.”
Based in the Athi-River Export Processing Zone near Nairobi, Reltex is teaming up with India-based Toyop Relief to start grouping items made by manufacturers in the zone.
Sachin Shah, director of Toyop, says he aims to source all the materials for hygiene kits from Kenya within the next two years, but it will “depend on how fast [manufacturers] can adapt to the quality standards of the NGOs [non-governmental organisations].”
He says the cost differential is still a big barrier, with Kenyan goods costing up to 15% more than goods from India and China.
“I can’t go for an African purchase if it’s going to be 20% more expensive than if I’m buying it in China or India,” says Rishi Ramrakha, Africa logistics head for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Though it has some local suppliers, the IFRC mainly sources from India, China and Vietnam.
Ramrakha also points to a lack of local facilities to store items. Mosquito nets stored in Dubai, for instance, can take up to 30 days to reach a crisis zone, and cost more to transport.