African mining operations, African safaris and African refugee camps all use tents for temporary housing, and sometimes, the need is desperate.
Competition in African tent manufacturing for safaris and events has grown in the last decade with party tents taking the lead, according to a report in All Africa.
In East Africa, demand for tents from non-governmental organizations has been steady following conflict in Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda. Drought and floods sent millions of people into make-shift camps. The U.N. Refugee Agency put out an urgent call for 45,000 tents to house Somali refugees in August 2011.
Asim Shah, CEO of Nairobi-based tent making company, Tarpo Industries. Non-governmental organizations are his largest clients in Kenya, he told All Africa. They use tents for storage, vehicle canopies, temporary classrooms, health centers and accommodation for staff and refugees.
“When there is conflict, the NGOs have a list of their priorities: water, medicine and then shelter,” Shah. “So, yes, the tents business thrives during conflict but we also thrive when development projects are being undertaken, like when NGOs set up temporary clinics to do free health check-ups.”
Shah estimates the tent business in Kenya is worth $10 million to $15 a year.
Mining exploration is opening up a new market for Tarpo and other tent manufacturers in Africa, Shah told All Africa. Companies exploring minerals look to tent makers for temporary housing. Tarpo supplied geologists in Liberia, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
“They go for geological surveys and can spend up to two weeks on site. We set up accommodation for them,” he said. “That is a big growing area for the next 10 years because after exploration, actual mining kicks off. We will be in that industry for a while.”
In Tanzania, 90 percent of Tarpo’s tent busness is safaris. In Uganda, sales come from the military.
Tarpo’s tent prices range from $286 to $45,887.
There are fewer barriers to tent making than other manufacturing businesses, Shah said. “Anyone can make something like a tent with a sewing machine. Some of the materials are readily available in the market.”
But Shah warned that the tent industry is unique and takes time to understand. “It is not a product you sell to just anyone,” he said.
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