How group’s banana flour business bloomed
G-Star Youth Group has achieved two objectives that the founders desired: finding a market for local banana farmers and empowering the youth members.
According to Charles Wachira who is the group’s Chairman, the idea of starting the group hit him in 2013 when he brought the youth together. “We had realized that brokers were buying bananas at a throwaway price in Nyeri County and we decided to do something about it. Some of the victims were our parents and we decided to do banana value addition to maximize the earnings from the fruit,” says Wachira.
But it was not going to be easy as they thought especially when it came to sourcing for funds. “We started as eight members and our idea was to build an industry to process bananas into flour, jam, and other products. Since the government was promising money to the youth, we thought we would get enough to build the industry and start processing immediately. In 2015, we only managed to get Sh50,000 from Uwezo Fund and Sh100,000 from Youth Fund which we realized couldn’t accomplish what we wanted,” says Wachira.
They used the money in capacity building learning about banana processing but they started to repay the loans immediately.
Luck smiled on them again that year when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) came on board and helped to train them more on capacity building.
They were sponsored for a course on food processing technology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT) where they were awarded certificates. They also sponsored them for benchmarking tours where they visited industries which were doing banana processing to gain more knowledge. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) would later come on board and trained them on Book Keeping and Marketing.
“After being supported by the two donors we were very rich knowledge wise but we found ourselves back to square one without money to build the industry. Some members were frustrated and after a while, only me and another founder member remained. It is then that we decided to seek help from the County Government of Nyeri and luckily the Governor listened to us and he decided to help us,” says Wachira.
The Governor allowed them to use Wambugu Farm Agricultural Training College facilities to produce their maize flour in 2016. “There were machines and a technician and we were not paying anything. He also urged us to recruit more members and we managed to reach fifteen which is the current group now. We were commuting daily from our village Muthinga in Tetu Constituency and being jobless getting fare was also a challenge,” says Wachira.
Their hope was rekindled once more when Upper Tana National Resource Management Project invited proposals from groups which had projects they wanted to be funded. Their proposal of Sh1.8 million to build an industry was passed but they had to contribute 10 per cent which was Sh180,000. Wachira says they were to contribute the money either in the form of offering labour or materials. This favoured them as they ended up contributing Sh70,000 in cash.
A member donated a piece of land to build the industry and they started preparations. However, the joy was short-lived after they were told that the industry was a community project and could not be built on an individual’s land.
“Now we had the money to build the industry but no land. Since we couldn’t afford to buy one, we went back to the Governor and requested to be allocated a piece of land. The process went on for about one year and we were informed that if we didn’t get land in good time, the money would be returned to treasury. The County Government once again came to their rescue and through public participation, proposed to offer them land within Gathinga Vocational Training Centre. The community and the Board of Directors of the Institution agreed and finally their dream came true and the industry was built.
“The journey was long but finally we made it. Our industry is a modern one and was commissioned in February this year. Currently, we mill banana porridge flour fortified with maize and sorghum which we started selling locally. Today we manage to sell in Nyeri town and Nairobi in small quantities. We hope to increase our marketing and distribution capacity soon so that we reach as many people as possible. However, we are doing fine and the local community has embraced our product,” says Wachira. They buy bananas from the local community which they dry using solar driers, mill and then pack the flour.