By Grace Wekesa
Kakamega, Kenya: A youth group in Matungu, Mumias, is reaping the rewards of an innovative business idea: squeezing juice out of sweet potatoes.
Bunami Brothers, a community-based organisation with 20 members, has come up with a increasingly popular use for the crop that does well in the region.
Sweet potatoes are a staple in many households and are valued for their high nutritional content.
To help it roll out and optimise their idea, the group partnered with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) office in Kakamega.
Mr Vincent Atitwa, Bunami’s chairman, said Kari does research on various sweet potato varieties, and advises them on which ones would work best for their venture.
“We cannot decide on our own which sweet potato variety is the best to plant, so Kari has been very helpful,’’ he said.
Currently, the group is growing a sweet potato variety called the Vita seed orange, which takes a short time to mature, and is rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium and fibre.
It takes three months to mature, with its seedlings ready for transplanting after 45 days.
“Most young people want a farming activity that rakes in money quickly. We opted for this variety because within three months, we start getting back our cash, and we have seedlings after 45 days. This means we have two sources of income from one farming venture,’’ said Mr Daniel Marita, a member.
The members came together a year ago after failing to secure employment. They settled on sweet potatoes because of their interest in farming and the potential they saw in the crop to generate an income for them.
“Sweet potatoes have diverse economic benefits, so it made sense for us to start growing it commercially,” said Mr Marita.
And they don’t just make juice from it.
“Initially we didn’t know we could use sweet potatoes to get other products, but with the help of the Agriculture ministry, we were taught about value addition. We now get juice, flour for porridge and animal feed from this crop.”
They sell a glass of juice at between Sh20 and Sh50, and it is quickly becoming popular for its health benefits and smooth texture.
To prepare the juice, the sweet potatoes are boiled for 15 to 30 minutes. They are then peeled, sliced and mashed. Water is added, and the mixture mixed thoroughly.
Once it is sieved, it is ready to drink. Sugar may be stirred in.
The juice may also be mixed with ginger, carrots and oranges for a more tangy flavour.
“We don’t have a machine to process the juice, we make it manually, but plans to acquire equipment to hasten the process are underway,’’ said Mr Atitwa.
Sweet potatoes can also be mixed with wheat flour to make cakes, bread and chapatis, or peeled and sliced thinly to make crisps and chips. The vines can be cooked.
“One vine retails at Sh10, with most residents cooking the leaves as vegetables as they have a lot of nutrients,’’ said Marita.
The group transplants vines to start a new crop, with each cut into three pieces before being put in shallow holes.
Kari discourages the use of indigenous seeds because they take longer to mature and are less profitable.
Bunami Brothers has a two-acre farm, with half an acre dedicated to planting seedlings.
The beds are prepared in rows to facilitate watering. The farm is irrigated with pipes connected to various water points. Since their land is in a swampy area, the water supply is constant, which was another factor that pushed them into sweet potato farming.
The group sells a bag of sweet potatoes at Sh500, and their farm produces up to 220 bags per harvest.
“We have also opened a resource centre that specialises in educating people about our business and building capacity in sweet potato farming. We want to share the information we have gained and also inspire fellow youth and the community at large,” said Atitwa.
He added that what has kept the group together is their commitment, and transparency in financial management.
“A lack of transparency has destroyed many groups. With us, members make money according to their work input.’’