Banana farmers across the country have endured many years of frustration arising from lack of market, pests and diseases, and low productivity, among others. In seasons of high productivity, many bananas sometimes go for as low as Shs 1,000, to the disappointment of farmers who invest a lot in fertilizers and labour.
A Tharaka Nithi farmer has found a lifeline in adding value to the harvested banana produce. The venture has not only increased the product’s shelf life but has tripled earnings from the crop.
Jane Rose, director of Above and Beyond, says traditionally, farmer’s obsession with certain crops has worked against them, as evidenced in the current market oversupply. She says farmers would produce the same crop simultaneously, which would be 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 farmers who have traditionally counted losses after the market burst due to an oversupply,” Rose says.
Rose is now weathering the oversupply with value-added end products like banana flour and crisps through her enterprise, Above and Beyond, earning farmers more than triple the raw product. In addition, Rose says she engages other farmers to dry tuber crops and process them into more healthy and nutritious products.
“While a single bunch of bananas would yield a maximum of Sh600, selling them in sachet crisps, where one banana makes one sachet, the same bunch can make up to Sh2000. In addition, crisps have a shelf-life of more than three months, unlike the banana, which cannot last for more than two weeks,” she says.
Though bananas are available round the year, readymade flour is easier to use. As the bananas used are generally grown at home, they are usually grown without pesticides and chemicals. Hence, the flour is also chemical-free
She says making banana flour involves cleaning the raw materials before they are cut into small chips, later taken for drying. The drying takes three to four days before the bananas are taken to the milling machines to make flour.
The processing and packaging are done manually at the company. It is later packaged and sold to health-conscious individuals in the area. Once we get the KEBs certification, our products will penetrate into supermarkets and other retail shops.
Her future plan for the group is to make an even greater value addition by mechanizing the process. “To impact more farmers and livelihoods in the area, I hope that through the AgriBiz programme, Above and Beyond will be able to scale its production by purchasing a dryer and humidifier.”
In addition to banana flour, the group also processes the flours from cassava, pumpkin and crisps from arrowroots. All these crops, Rose says, are sourced from other farmers in the locality. The venture has provided permanent employment for two women and one gentleman who run the facility.
“It is an interesting time to be a smart farmer in Kenya. The enterprising farmer notes that the appetite for value-added products locally and the opening up of regional markets is working in our favour,” the enterprising farmer notes.
Organic flours help prevent and alleviate several diseases such as blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. In addition, it can easily replace refined flour. Its health benefits have made it famous across the country.