Mathira sub-County in Nyeri County is best known for production of good coffee and tea, fetching top prices in international markets. However, with the establishment of Karatina University, which got its charter last year, a more lucrative investment opportunity has arisen: hostels. Located 15km from Karatina town at Kagochi village bordering Mount Kenya forest, the university has changed the topography of the area.
Instead of green patches of tea plantations, magnificent buildings painted in all colours are sprouting. According to a land agent and managing director of Linkers Estate Valuers, Mr Wahome Ndikwe, an influx of huge number of students has led to farmers abandoning the cash crop to build hostels, which are in great demand. ‘’Before the university was established we used to sell pieces of land at a Sh500,000 per acre.
Now a similar parcel is going for about eight million shillings. Prices have skyrocketed,” says Ndikwe. His sentiments are echoed by Mr Njogu Miano, who has so far constructed more than 30 hostels in a two-acre piece of land where he used to cultivate more than 3,000 tea bushes.
“When I was cultivating tea, I used to get a paltry Sh30,000 from sale of tea every month. But with these hostels, I can confirm to you that I earn ten times the amount so I do not regret constructing the hotels,” says Miano.Still, he says he has not uprooted tea bushes from the rest of his three acres because he ‘cannot put all his eggs in one basket’. It is not only tea farmers who are benefiting from the new university.
Horticulture farmers are also smiling all the way to the bank due to the huge demand of fresh vegetables at the institution. Mr Daniel Gakobo, a vegetable farmer says they are relishing every opportunity provided by the institution. ‘’Before this university was established, our crops used to rot in our farms . In fact sometimes we used to sell a cabbage at a mere one shilling. Today, I am able to sell all my produce at good prices and also supply eggs to this institutions,” says a visibly delighted Gakobo.
Wahome says that as an agent, he sees good tidings for the farmers since the institution is yet to fully operationalise. He expects to have a booming business years to come following a move by county government of Nyeri to woo investors to construct houses for the college’s staff and students. It is not only Kagochi area which has benefited from the institution; rents in Karatina town have also gone up by over 300 percent.
“A bedsitter which we used to cost Sh1,500 per month has now shot up to over Sh7,000 following rising demand for accommodation by university students. Indeed, many tentans are being pushed out of town to far residential areas,” said Ndikwe. A spot check by The People revealed that most landlords in the town are cashing in on this boom and are chasing away their former tenants, subdividing houses into smaller single rooms to accommodate students.
The university’s vice chancellor, Prof Mucai Muchiri says they have five campuses namely Kagochi (main campus), Nanyuki, Itiati, Riverbank and Karatina Town annex. A learning centre has been opened in Nyeri town along Kimathi Way. Both Riverbank and Karatina Town campuses are located in Karatina town, with the two having a population of 2,000 students.
Itiati Campus, where the School of Education and Social Sciences is hosted, is located about 5km west of the main campus. Muchiri says that among the opportunities available for investors in the growing campus is housing for both students and staff, banking, hospitality and transport which are open to all investors. ‘’The population of students is about 5,000 but we can hardly accommodate over 1,000 students at the main campus. As a university, our mandate is basically to offer education we have chosen to focus more on construction of lecture halls, laboratories and libraries.
I wish to encourage investors to put their money in accommodation and seize this opportunity to provide accommodation around all our campuses urgently,” he said. “The last thing I’d wish to see happen at Karatina University is to accommodate students in tents, hence my appeal to investors,” said Muchiri. As we drive out of the campus, a colleague wonders loudly how long it will take for Kigoci village to brecome a university town.