A Kirinyaga farmer has found an agribusiness niche and a revenue lifeline in adding value to her harvested banana produce that has not only increased the product’s shelf life but has more than tripled her earnings, at a time when over-production and a shrinking market have taken a toll on the crop’s earnings.
Karen Wairimu from Njegas village in Kirinyaga Central Sub County says traditionally, farmer’s obsession with certain crops has worked against them as evidenced in the current oversupply of bananas in the market.
She says farmers make a mistake in producing the same crop at the same time, which is harvested at the same time and taken to the same market, yielding low prices.
“Such has been the case with the high yielding tissue culture banana. An obsession with the crop by many smallholder farmers has ended up creating a glut in the market, leaving late entrants with bunches rotting in farms,” Wairimu said.
Wairimu is now weathering the oversupply with value addition with end products like banana biscuits, flour and crisps earning her more than triple the raw product.
Wairimu through her farm, National Way and Food Supplement (Afya Chap Chap), for example, is now engaging other banana farmers to dry the crop using low-cost solar dryers to preserve unsold bananas.
Wairimu says dried bananas are ideal for export to countries like China whose, appreciation for such is unrivaled and yet to be tapped by Kenyan farmers.
“While a single banana bunch yields a maximum value of Sh600, a sachet of banana crisps made from one banana bunch goes for as much as Sh2,000, with the crisps lasting for more than three months, unlike the banana which can’t last for more than two weeks,” she said.
She says her future plan is to make an even greater value addition breakthrough in making a banana wine.
“There is a huge market in Southern Sudan. I am only putting strategies in place to make sure that when it starts, I will be able to sustain the supply,” she said.
The venture she said is based on the traditional fermentation process, which involves using yeast to hasten fermentation.
“I have already undergone the training in readiness for the wine preparation; the ready wine is decanted into medium-sized jugs and left to stand for a day in a cool place, before being bottled in 330ml and 500 ml glass bottles that are returnable after use for subsequent bottling,” says the farmer.
She says a market survey she has carried out indicates that a 330ml bottle of the wine goes for Sh150 in local bars while fetching Sh200 in big cities like Nairobi.
Wairimu says the flour she is making currently in her farm is mixed with cassava and pumpkin for potassium with vitamin B 17 which acts as a protection to cancer.
She sources bananas from other farmers in the locality to add to the harvest from her one-acre farm at Njegas.
“Milling and packaging of the flour is done at the farm and later taken to local supermarkets.
“Unfavorable weather is a challenge since we use solar power to dry the clips, we would like an electric dryer which is more dependable,” she says.
The other challenge which needs to be addressed is the creation of awareness to the farmers of many who do not seem as they can get different products from the banana.
She says the process of making banana flour involves cleaning the raw materials before they are cut into small chips which are later taken for drying.
The drying takes three to four days and later taken to the milling machines which are able to produce between one and two sacks in four hours.
Wairimu who has seven employees including a driver, milling operator retails half a kilo of the banana flour at Sh170.
Wairimu says she earns good money, a far cry from the Sh15,000 she earned when selling bananas to the local markets.
“It is an interesting time to be a smart farmer in Kenya. The appetite for value-added products locally and the opening up of regional markets is working in our favor. The future of food security is in the value addition,” says Wairimu, an observation the County government agrees with.
“We have rolled out various value addition ventures across all aspects of agriculture because we understand now, more than ever, in the wake of changing climate and growing population, that it is our sure bet to food security,” says Jackline Njogu, Agriculture CEC Agriculture Kirinyaga County.