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Climate action: Group now makes nutritious food from wild fruits

By Philip Muasya | November 29th 2021

Ruth Kitavi, 74, the chairlady of Muuo wa Sombe women group, shows some of the products from wild fruits. [Stephen Nzioka, Standard]

As communities in rural areas grapple with effects of climate change, a women’s group has adopted innovative value addition techniques on wild fruits and drought-resistant crops to build resilience and improve food security.

The Kibwezi East-based Muuo wa Sombe women’s group, with 30 members, has become a household name for the rare products.

The women’s exhibition stand at the recent Seventh Devolution Conference in Makueni was the centre of attraction, as delegates flocked to view the products on display while many others opted to sample them.

Peninah David, the group’s coordinator, chairperson Ruth Kitavi and secretary Faith Charles were at their exhibition stand, with some eye-catching products on display.

They included jam and juice made from baobab and tamarind fruits, dried kales and amaranth, baobab fruit powder, which can be mixed with milk and taken raw, and is rich in calcium – a perfect delicacy for pregnant women; millet flour, locally known as kinaa, and sorghum beverage that can be used in place of drinking chocolate.

Other products on sale were packed baobab fruits and baobab sweets, popularly known as mabuyu.

Also on offer was green gram flour, rich in vitamins and which is used to enrich other flours such as maize flour, cowpeas powder or roasted pumpkin seeds.

The products can go up to six months without refrigeration, the only preservative being lemon.

Muuo wa Sombe’s exhibition stand at the recent Devolution Conference was the centre of attraction. [Stephen Nzioka, Standard]

David, the group’s coordinator, said they opted to add value to what was locally available and what easily grows locally.

Thousands of baobab and tamarind trees dot the semi-arid Kibwezi. They are resistant to the harsh climatic conditions locally.

Locals have not had much use for the wild fruits in the past, with the bulk being eaten by wild animals such as baboons.  

But that is all in the past, as today, products from the wild fruits have found their way to the dining tables of many households, thus creating a steady demand, which has given the women a good market for their fruit.

The end result is that the women are able to earn an income from their initiative while also building on the food nutrition.

“Most of these fruits grow naturally in our land. We also have farm crops that are drought-resistant and ideal for our land such as cowpeas, sorghum, cassava and green grams.

“All we needed to do was come up with ways of adding value to them and making an income out of it. We can confidently say we have succeeded in a big way,” said Ms David.

She said before they ventured into the project, it was impossible for many of them to afford basic commodities. This, however, changed as currently all members are able to earn a decent income.

“My husband and I did not have jobs. Life was very tough; I could not even afford to groom myself. But we thank God things have turned around,” she said. She is now able to make Sh10,000 per month without breaking a sweat.

“Our husbands also respect us because they know we can also provide for the family,” she added.

The products can go up to six months without refrigeration, the only preservative being lemon. [Stephen Nzioka, Standard]

The women are also involved in kitchen gardening and have been trained on how to dry surplus vegetables and pack the same for future use. For this, they have acquired a small solar-powered drier.

The life-changing training was offered by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in a multi-pronged approach that mainly focuses on food security and nutrition, while empowering the rural communities in arid and semi-arid lands to cope with harsh and unpredictable weather.

Hamisi Williams, the head of programmes at FAO, says the training is aimed at building the capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change and innovate ways of income generation using local crops.

“The training focuses on giving skills to farmers to make use of what is locally available and make the best use of it. It is a multi-pronged approach to maximise on the available resources,” said Mr Williams.

He said those trained were linked to experts in areas such as conservation agriculture and ended up being trainers within the community. The success of these trainings is that eight of 10 groups trained in Makueni, Kitui and Tharaka Nithi counties are involved in income-generating activities.

The Kibwezi women, however, are not able to carry out mass production because they have not yet obtained the requisite certifications from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

“We are encouraged by the demand and would want to produce more of our products. Our clients ask why they cannot find the products in local supermarkets,” said David, lamenting that conditions set up by Kebs and the requisite fees is above their reach. 

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