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Fertilizer Scam: How Meru Villagers Lost Thousands in Packaged Goat Manure
Fertilizer Scam: How Meru Villagers Lost Thousands in Packaged Goat Manure
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Fertilizer Scam: How Meru Villagers Lost Thousands in Packaged Goat Manure

Kibaki Muthamia
January 27, 2023

My grandmother and a couple of her peers have spent the day at the local police station. The octogenarians are angrily threatening the local police boss with a generational curse. 

Now, a generational curse is the more palatable option. They are flanked by younger crowds, visibly agitated and armed with machetes. It's not a stereotype, really - Meru people and their machete. 

Their anger is directed at a well-known local trader who has allegedly conned the villagers thousands of shillings.

The Officer Commanding Station (OCS), in the characteristic cop's bluntness, made the situation worse by curtly saying the trader did legit business. A local preacher had to be called in to cool down the flaring tempers.

The preacher, too, had lost Ksh7,400 in the deal! 

Oh, wait. I'm telling this from the end.

How to be a Successful Con Artist 

One, you have to be clever, and have a sharp business brain. The ability to think stuff through, check for loopholes in the system and possible solutions. Business 101- provide a service or product that people need, and are willing to invest in. 

Next, you need a good ear. A big appetite for news and social trends pays off. You have to be in the loop. What's trending? What stories are hot - and, more importantly - is money involved? Remember you are in it for the money.

Then, like any business, you need capital. Invest in yourself first. Soak up knowledge, be an authority in your chosen field. Do you look the part? Invest in good suits, a decent car, perhaps. Sales people know presentation determines the sale: a success or a flop.

Our local trader now facing the business end of angry machetes had figured this to a T. He rolled around in a silver Mercedes Benz, E class. He had a thriving business empire with tentacles in transport, cereals and real estate. Everything in the business had a 'Mugambi & Sons Investment' emblazoned. 

Every villager had a question: How can a rich tycoon con poor peasants teetering on the breadline?

Basically, look like you cannot be a con artist.

The Genesis of the Scam

Mugambi - the trader - had an ear for social trends, especially business and politics. And, the mind to know how and when to merge them to earn a tidy amount in a short time.

An opportunity arose, immediately the country's newly elected fifth president made good his pledge on agriculture. The president announced heavy cuts on the cost of fertilizer - from Ksh7,500 to a manageable Ksh3,700. The news was well received across the country.

Problem is, the commodity became scarce. You literally needed to 'know people' to get the subsidized fertilizer. They had to cap the maximum a farmer could get - only two 50KG bags. If you had more than an acre, well.... 

Also, lots of red tape. The registration was done at the county agricultural office. You needed national identity cards and a copy of your title deed. In that way, farmers from County A could not buy fertilizer from County B, see the drift? Quite a crowd did not have the papers, and so on.

To a good businessman with resources and connections, perfect ground to make a coin.

The Fertilizer Orders 

A week to the start of the rains, a lot of farmers had still not accessed the fertilizer. Time was running out - until, thankfully - a rumor started that Mugambi, of Mugambi & Sons Investments had pledged to bring a consignment of organic fertilizer, for sale at only Ksh3,750.

Indeed it was true. It had a condition - at least fifty farmers had to pay upfront, and agree to add a mere Ksh50 to the government price. The trader remarked that the Ksh50 was a little to fuel the trucks 'from wherever the fertilizer came from'.

It seemed good enough. No one asked where the organic fertilizer would come from. That was the trader's headache. After all, he was earning Ksh50 per bag - and some farmers needed four, five bags.

The registration surpassed fifty - minimum orders. Farmers trooped to the local Sacco for emergency loans. Fertilizer does not expire, it can be used next season.

Management asked the farmers to pick one of their own, and hand over the money. They all got receipts, embossed with Mugambi & Sons Investment. Under items - Organic fertilizer (50KGs), price Ksh3,750 and the number of bags. 

All this time, the trader could be reached on the phone. If someone had organized a national 'Most Loved Person' contest, Mugambi the trader would have the title 'by 7am'. 

Tip: Always be available in the gestation period of the con game.

The Fertilizer Delivery

The appointed farmer delivered the payments to the trader's head office. A few photos were taken of the CEO shaking hands across a mahogany table with the farmer. Mugambi & Son's Investments CEO is the trader's eldest daughter. The photos were useful for PR on social media pages.

She promised delivery in five days, at the local chief's camp. Only the appointed farmer needed be present, to receive the organic fertilizer consignment.

Indeed, on the fifth day - delivery was made. Either by scheme or coincidence, it fell on a Sunday. The folks were in church. Only the appointed farmer came to meet the truck covered in tarpaulin at the chief's camp. It just had the driver.

The driver did not even alight. He shoved a bunch of papers at the farmer, and pointed with a smoldering cigarette at several spots that needed a signature. The truck had a hydraulic system - he just tipped the trailer, and dumped several hundred bags of fertilizer. It raised a cloud of dust.

Then, it drove off.

The farmer tipped a local lad, to keep an eye on the pile. As he left, he sent a text to all members asking to meet at noon for their fertilizer, lest 'it got rained on'. The season's first rains had fallen the previous night.

The ‘Organic’ Fertilizer

The fertilizer was in sealed 50KG bags, with a Mugambi & Sons Investments logo branded. They were clearly marked 'Organic Fertilizer'. 

As each farmer signed, and picked their orders - none asked why the bags were significantly larger. Imagine the surprise in the villages when they discovered the organic fertilizer was actually goat manure?

What! They had paid Ksh3,750 for a 50KG bag of goat manure?

The Stalemate

Unbelievably, the trader could still be reached on his phone. Yes, we sell organic manure. Yes, those are our rates. Yes, it's registered with the necessary government arms according to the law. And, yes - we are even advertising on our social media.

I couldn't believe it until I checked the said social media pages. Yes, they a month-long marketing campaign on social media on the organic fertilizer.

Technically, they had said it's organic from the onset. Goat manure is indeed organic. 

The villagers did not have much else to do, other than take their machetes home.

Oh, I cannot really tell if my grandmother and her peers did not cast a generational curse at someone.....

Kibaki Muthamia is a creative non-fiction writer with over three years in narrative-style content writing, SEO, digital marketing and social media copywriting. Away from writing, if you don't find him volunteering with St John's Ambulance, he's weaving spoken word and poetry at the Kenya National Theatre. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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