Would you drink yoghurt enriched with bamboo?

Terveys Foods founder, Rona Kiura shows her innovation to Embu Governor Martin Wambora during the Embu Agricultural Society of Kenya show recently. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)

It is becoming harder and harder to stand out at an Agricultural Society of Kenya show these days. Exhibitors are bringing to the table increasingly innovative solutions.

However, one stand in the Embu edition of the show managed to capture the imagination of almost everyone in attendance.

The exhibition of food products enriched with bamboo was especially interesting because hundreds of farmers in Embu practise commercial bamboo farming.

Most, however, weren’t aware of the many uses of the plant outside of making furniture.

Rona Kiura, 24, is on a mission to change this.

“Asian countries like China and Taiwan widely use bamboo shoots as vegetables, so I wanted to bring this to Kenya,” she says.

She uses shoots from the giant bamboo variety to add value to food products like yoghurt and cake. And despite her products being a novelty in Embu, her stand was still a huge hit.

Rona manufactures her products at Terveys Foods in Doka building, Runyenjes town.

The Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology graduate in Food Science and Technology says she was inspired by her course work.

Lower risk

With two of her classmates, they presented the idea to their lecturer that they could enrich food products using giant bamboo shoots. “Our proposal was approved, so we set out to experiment and see what we could come up with,” she says.

In the course of their research, the food technologists found that edible varieties of bamboo shoots have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that reduce the risk of numerous long-term illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.

The possibilities were exciting, so after graduation, Rona knew she wanted to continue pursuing food technology, so she set up Terveys Foods and kept up with the bamboo proposition.

“My first stop was the home of a renowned bamboo farmer, Taratisio Kawe, who showed me the ropes of bamboo farming and harvesting,” says Rona.

Kawe, who is also businessman in Runyenjes town, taught her about the various local bamboo varieties that are edible and gave her a place to work from.

“I started with capital of Sh20,000, which was my savings from pocket money and some cash from my parents and a cousin. My mother also gave me an oven. I started small five months ago, and I’m working my way up by ploughing back what I make into the business,” Rona says.

She used this capital to purchase raw materials, which included milk, young bamboo shoots, wheat flour and packaging. A kilo of bamboo shoots costs Sh100.

“Shoots that are under a week old are soft and edible,” Rona says. “There are more than 1,500 bamboo species, but out of these, only 110 species are known to have edible shoots.”

Before being consumed, edible shoots need to be thoroughly washed and boiled as some may contain cyanogenic glycosides.

These plant toxins are present in several edible plants, including cassava.

Once the shoots are ready, Rona washes them once more, and then slices and dries them under direct sunlight. Once they’ve dried, she grinds them and throws this flour in with the wheat flour used to make cupcakes, or the milk used to make yoghurt.

Terveys Foods packs its yoghurt in 250ml containers, and cakes in packs of five, and sells both products at Sh50 each.

“Foods enriched with bamboo shoots enhance satiety because of the high fibre content, and also help relieve intestinal worms,” Rona says.

Unique ideas

She markets and sells her products through social media, door to door and at exhibitions.

She’s also found a passion for value addition.

“Those wishing to add value to different agricultural produce should patent their unique ideas and go on to implement them. This is a way of creating jobs instead of waiting for those elusive white-collar opportunities,” she says.

And bamboo is a good place to start, Rona says. Aside from being used for food, bamboo shoots also make good animal fodder.

Outside of furniture, other uses of bamboo are for charcoal, pulp, boards, clothing, fuel, medicine, utensils and crafts.

Bamboo does well in average annual temperatures of 20oC to 27oC. It is a drought-resistant shrub and thrives with minimal annual rainfall.

Established farmers can sell bamboo poles at Sh400 each, bamboo plantlets at Sh50 and bamboo sticks at Sh35.

To improve the commercial benefits of the shrub, Kawe has petitioned the National Assembly to recognise bamboo as a cash crop so that the Government can streamline its farming and marketing so farmers can benefit more from it.

As a result of this push and other related efforts, the Agriculture and Livestock parliamentary committee has recommended that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry gazette bamboo as a scheduled crop under Section 7 of the Crops Act of 2013.

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