If you want your farm to hit the next level, one of the magic ingredients is value addition. That is the thinking that transformed one farmer in Karuri, Gatundu North into a hotelier.
Smart Harvest starts this interview at the hotel to get first-hand look at the possibilities that come with adding value to fresh farm produce. We are at Bamboo Hotel, where the proprietor — Charles Mundia — a farmer-cum-hotelier, is taking us round.
A look at the menu, it is clear the person who crafted it, was particularly health conscious and a real foodie — brown ugali, vegetable paste made from dried herbs and seasoned with tomato and chilli paste and on the list of snacks are mandazi and chapatis made from sweet potato flour.
Traditional mbogas like amaranth and managu also feature on the list.
Those who check in at the Bamboo Hotel also part with Sh40 to enjoy a calabash of porridge made from a flour mixture of cassava, bananas, sweet potatoes and mulberry leaf powder. The porridge is sweetened with honey.
“Everything here is prepared with health in mind. We do not just make tasty food, it is also healthy. I realised I can be growing all these nice vegetables but until I prepared the food into a final dish, my profit margins will be smaller,” Mundia says.
Mundia, a retired civil servant has taken value addition to the next level.
“There were days I used to spend the whole day on the farm and sell my produce raw. But after research and talking to veterans, I realised I could make more by adding value on what is produced by farmers,” Mr Mundia.
Next stop is the land he has christened Mundia Farm, where all the dirty, grinding work happens. The farm is located three kilometres away from the hotel.
As we ride through the 3-kilometre stretch along the highway, medium-sized plantations of pineapples greet our eyes. Healthy banana plants also sway in the fields in complete harmony with old avocado trees and lean passion plants weighed down by fruit.
“This weather supports planting of almost anything. But farmers waste a lot when they harvest in abundance and find no market for their crop,” Mundia says.
He explains that few people know about value addition, a practice that would otherwise minimise the amount of losses they experience by relying solely on open fresh markets. He says it is the main trick behind double profit from farm produce.
On the two-and a half acre farm, Mundia plants practically everything — from horticultural crops to herbs and spices — maximising on the Chania River. With 300 banana plants, strewn-in avocado trees, passion plants coiled up against more rigid plants, pruned mulberry plants and cassava plants, Mundia Farm passes for an experimental farm to test the growth of all types of crops.
Preserving sweet potatoes
There are potato vines too, thrown in here and there. Other spaces are filled with indigenous vegetables and beans.
A freshly dug space passes for a desolate, perched piece of ground, but it isn’t. In fact, Mundia explains that the space hides a treasure.
Underneath the bare ground are dugouts that hide harvested sweet potatoes. When Mundia harvests more than the market can take, to preserve the remaining produce, he digs 5-feet-deep bunkers where he stores the surplus.
The bunkers are sprinkled with water to prevent drying up of the sweet potatoes. Mundia stuffs up to one tonnes of sweet potatoes in one bunker.
“When people see me with potatoes every time, they think I harvest all-year round. But it is my underground treasures that keep my supplies intact,” Mr Mundia says.
Mundia started farming in 2014 when he took a gamble with a few passion fruits.
This was after he visited a successful farmer who also hosted people from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on his farm in Murang’a.
To test the waters further, he bought 13 sweet yellow passion fruit seedlings from JKUAT and after a year of waiting, he harvested his first crop and made Sh300,000 from making passion fruit juice.
Slowly by slowly, the agribusiness picked up.
Today, Mundia had planted bananas and other crops alongside the passion plants and when the latter dried up, he started selling fresh fruits.
Eventually, an idea hit him of adding value to his produce to minimise waste that accrued from the unsold fresh farm produce. He says he made a 13-by-10 solar drier that dried 300 kilos at one take. He says the solar drier was cheap, but had shortcomings.
“I could not use it during the rainy season and it was slow,” Mundia says.
He explains that it took up to nine days to dry 200 kilos of bananas in the solar drier, instead of the two days using a more efficient steam drier.
Fate smiled on him last year when he ran into one dealer at an agricultural show in Nyahururu. He bought a steam drier that has proved efficient in drying all fresh produce in record time.
The steam drier includes a milling machine, a slicer, a drier and boiler.
The 40-litre boiler is fitted with a fire chamber that holds firewood. When the firewood is lighted, the fire is blown into bursting by a fan that is fitted on the rear end of the fire chamber. This gradually brings the water in the boiler to boiling. The boiler is fitted with a water gauge that shows the amount of water in it. If the water levels drop, it doesn’t produce enough steam necessary in the drying process. It also has a thermometer that shows the water pressure.
Raw pumpkins, avocados, bananas and even tomatoes are washed in a sink and chopped into pieces by a slicer. They are then placed in drying chambers that are divided into five compartments.
Mundia says he prefers to dry the fruits differently because they take varied periods to dry. At six hours, pineapples take the longest to dry followed by tomatoes at four hours.
Bananas take about two hours to dry while cassavas and sweet potatoes dry in less than an hour. Mulberry leaves and kales take negligible time to dry.
Dried farm produce is then ground into a fine powder by a milling machine.
The powder is then packed, labelled and sold at show grounds and in food stores. The rest goes into making traditional dishes at his hotel.
Mundia attests to the multiple profits accrued through value addition.
Before, he made only up to Sh10 from raw avocadoes. This would bring him Sh500 from 50 kilos. Today, he dries the 50 kilos to make about five kilos of avocado powder. He sells a kilo of this powder at Sh300 and makes Sh1500.
“And I grind everything, including peelings. I don’t waste anything,” he says.
He says the only challenge he is grappling with is getting firewood for the drier.
For two months, he has been spending logs he bought at Sh3,000.
“But the good thing is that with the drier, you can work even when it is raining, unlike with the solar one. But I recommend starters to use the solar drier,” he says.