Trader pops snacks from pearl millet
After sourcing and earning a living for many years as a cereals farmer and trader, Gichangi Mahinda tried his hand in value addition to boost his income.
He initially roasted groundnuts and produced pops from maize, wheat, and rice.
But due to stiff competition as scores of other Kenyans dealt in the same products, Mahinda has ventured into unchartered territory; making pops from pearl millet. He mixes the pearl millet pops with groundnuts, baobab, turmeric, simsim oil, ginger, and cinnamon powder to churn out a nutritious delicacy.
His venture has gained a solid foothold in Embu County and is in the course of spurring a vibrant food industry that will empower farmers and create jobs.
Mahinda pops about 40 kilos of cereals daily, which he packages and sells to retailers.
He explains that a kilo of pearl millet which he buys at Sh70 yields more than 144 small-sized bars of snacks, which he sells at Sh10 or about Sh1,440, an exponential monetary value appreciation.
The innovative trader learned the value addition of cereals from researchers from Bioversity International, an organisation dealing with agriculture biodiversity, who he met in the course of his work.
He in 2017 traveled to Japan for further training. On returning he set up his business which operates as Kieru Foods. Bioversity International is also training value addition of cereals to farmers in Kitui, Migori and Baringo counties.
Mahinda spent Sh300,000 as capital which he invested in buying the prefabricated popping machine, drying chambers, packaging materials, and other stuff.
Donning a clean, white overcoat Mahinda rotates a metallic popping machine containing grains of millet under hot fire as an assistant feeds pieces of dry wood into the stove.
In about 10 minutes, the product is cooked and ready to be extracted from the hot container.
Mahinda proceeds to wear earplugs as his assistant clutches a bell and rings it noisily to alert those in the vicinity about the impending boom. Using a small rod, Mahinda hits the lid of the container and it opens with a loud boom.
The men quickly transfer the tasteful looking pops into a container then pour them into a clean, gunny bag.
“That is how we manufacture pops from millet. It is more laborious and costly compared to producing popcorns but the final product is nutritious and a darling of the health-conscious people,” explains Mahinda.
For the health of the consumers, Mahinda ensures he grows and buys millet only grown in a safe environment far from pollutants such as sewage.
“I have an acre farm in Gatondo area of Siakago where I grow cereals, mainly pearl millet. Since it cannot sustain my industry throughout, I supplement by buying from other farmers.
“I check the grains carefully to rule out weevil infestation or aflatoxin. At the processing plant, I wash the grains thoroughly then dry them in a clean place. My product is already certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and safe to consume,” Mahinda says as he shows us how he does it.
When he started, he had to give free samples to potential customers to popularise the product.
His venture has now picked on and the good returns make him scout for more marketing hoping to expand into a giant food industry.
Irene Induli, a nutritionist at Bioversity International says through popping, the nutrients in the pearl millet become concentrated while the moisture content is reduced. She adds that the nutrients are maintained.