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How Nyeri teacher adds value to pumpkins, cassava, millet and green bananas

By Muchiri Ndirangu
Reuben Kabui inside his solar drier at his cottage industry in Kihuti area in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri. [MUCHIRI NDIRANGU]

As Reuben Kabui grew up, he observed people trek for kilometers to the market carrying farm produce on their backs.

They returned home with peanuts after selling the produce at throwaway prices leaving him wishing he had a solution to the problem of exploitation by his village people by middlemen.

“At worst, they would cover kilometers on foot but end up not selling anything or if lucky, sold them for peanuts,” he says.

But it is a dream comes true for the primary school teacher after embarking on a successful value addition venture that has seen him provide a market for farm produce for hundreds of farmers.

The value addition project has seen him contribute to two of the Jubilee Government’s Big Four Agenda of improving food security by increasing the shelf life of perishables as well as in manufacturing.

Kabui ventured in value addition of green bananas, pumpkins, cassava and millet after setting up a cottage industry at Kihuti area in Mukurwe-ini sub-county, Nyeri County.

He has been grinding the produce making porridge flour named Afya Chap Chap since 2016.

Other than offering a solution to exploitation by brokers, he also wanted to encourage farmers to embark on the growing of traditional food crops as well as fulfill his other dream of being an employer.

With time, he has been able to increase production from 90 kilos of the flour in 2016 to 800 kilos in a day today. Kabui earns between Sh50, 000 and Sh100,000 per month from the venture.

He has also joined the list of renowned manufacturers and distributors of porridge flour to supermarkets and other outlets in central, parts of Eastern and is making headway in parts of Rift Valley and Nairobi.

To process bananas, he starts by cutting both tips of the banana fruit then wash it with sodium metabisulphite salt, a preservative which gets rid of the sticky sap in raw bananas.

The bananas are then sliced into small pieces before being put in solar dries to dry for two to three days depending on the sun intensity.

“We use solar drier technology which means it mostly works during the day. After they are well dried, the bananas are taken to a posho mill and ground into flour,” he explains.

Pumpkins and cassava which are the other ingredients are washed, sliced into small pieces, dried and ground into powder while cassava is peeled first before undergoing the same process.

All the ingredients are later taken into the packaging room where they are mixed with millet and amaranth flour and packaged in one kilo and 500 grams’ packets which goes at a wholesale price of Sh200 and Sh100 respectively.

He buys bananas and cassava from farmers at Sh15 per kilo.

This means a farmer is capable of selling a 30-kilo banana batch, which would have otherwise fetched a mere Sh150 or Sh200 in the market at Sh450.

“When making about 300 kilos of the flour, we need about 90 kilos of millet, 90 kilos of bananas, 90 kilos of cassava and 30 kilos of pumpkins,” he says.

Pumpkins are put in small quantities because they are expensive as well as to prevent the flour from turning yellow.

Traditional foods such as bananas and cassava among others, he says, have a starch called resistant starch which is not common in grains. Resistance starch helps insulin in the body to be more sensitive, he adds.

“This is why there were minimal cases of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes when people used to consume traditional foods a lot,” he says.

The flour is of high nutritional value. Other than being a source of protein, vitamins and carbohydrates it also has other elements including calcium which is essential in the formation of bones.

Other than cassava whose outer cover is removed the other ingredients are sliced with the peel which is rich in some trace elements such as potassium in bananas and zinc in pumpkins among others which are useful to the body.

Pumpkins flesh is rich in vitamins while the seeds have zinc and Omega 3.

Amaranth is added as it is rich in amino acids (organic compounds that combine to form proteins) making the flour completely balanced.

Reuben underwent value addition lessons at Wambugu ATC where he took a short course in agro-processing. He also reads books and research on the internet.

Reuben has increased solar dries from one in 2016 to three today, bought two vehicles for marketing and distribution and invested in a posho mill.

He also has the intention to procure a slicing machine to make slicing, currently done manually, fast, efficient and cut on cost.

Other machines in the pipeline include a mixing machine and heaters in driers so the ingredients can be dried both during the day and night to reduce the drying period.

The investment will enable him to scale up production from 10,000 kilos in a month today to 50,000 and raise the number of employees from ten to 20.

But the venture is not without downsides; among the challenge are set up government policies which are not friendly to beginners and especially the process of having items certified by KEBS.

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