How Nyandarua women’s group is peeling their lives to victory

How Nyandarua women’s group is peeling their lives to victory


The blue gate securing the compound opens to some soft humming of equipment accompanied by similar soft voices and laughter from jovial women, wearing bright faces, a clear indication they enjoy and love what they are doing.

It’s shortly before 8 am, and five women are already at work for the early morning shift working and supervising some casual workers.

They will soon be joined by other five members, each with a designated assignment including receiving and weighing potatoes from other farmers, while others will be working in value addition, keenly ensuring that the systems are perfectly working, no room for mistakes or errors, the products must be clean and to the standard.

These are Kiwafa Women-Self Help Group, started 15 years back, earning handsomely from potato value addition making at least four products, and creating a reliable market for over 400 contracted farmers.

They have taken advantage of the unexploited Irish potato value addition in Nyandarua county, the lead potato grower county producing 35 percent of the tubers. 

While other growers agonize about poor prices and exploitation by brokers, those contracted by the women group smile to the bank.

The group has set a pace in buying the produce in kilos against overweight bags traditionally preferred brokers.

Some of the members were professionals in various fields but lacked jobs or the salaries were too small to cater for the families.

With the bitter experience with brokers, the ten members identified an opportunity, did some research, consulted widely, and decided that was the route to take, and sure, it rewarded.

They are producers of WAFA products that include flour, cubes, animal feeds and starch all extracted from Irish potato, but the main business is extracting starch. 

While other farmers lament over-exploitation by brokers buying in bags, those contracted by Kiwafa smile to the bank selling their potatoes in kilos, not in bags.

“The group has bridged a gap in the potato value chain. Buying in kilos has motivated many farmers into contract farming. Kiwafa pays between Sh30 and Sh70 per kilo depending on season. But one must adhere to best farming practices to meet the quality the group desires. They have agronomists that train the contracted farmers with follow-ups by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS),” said Mr John Njoroge, a farmer contracted by Kiwafa group.

Ms Teresa Wanjiku, the group secretary says the breakthrough came last year when they qualified for a grant from Kenya Climate Innovation Center-KCIC when they received a Sh1.2 million value addition plant, capable of processing more than 1 tone of potato in an hour, but the maximum they have done in a day is 14 tones.

Ms Polly Mwongera, KCIC Kiambu Hub manager which covers Nyandarua says Kiwafa qualified after exhibiting their potential to address potato marketing challenges, create job opportunities, and sustainability of the business venture.

“We helped them acquire Kenya Bureau of Standards in February this year for all their products so that they can operate a legal business. Their impact on supporting other farmers also motivated us to support them. Kiwafa has ventured into commercial farming not farming as a hobby, and, though initially a women’s group, their industrial processing venture sports everyone in the community including men and youth,” says Ms Mwongera.

On the tree tomato venture, Ms Mary Muigai, the group chairperson says the business collapsed for lack of exposure and skills to process the fruits.

“With potato, we started with crisps, dried cubes, and fresh cuts. But after some training, we learnt about the products we make today which have a higher demand. But our constraint was very expensive processing equipment until KCIC came to our rescue,” said Ms Muigai, who is also an agronomist in charge of the groups and contracted farmers’ farm production.

She recalls how in 2020 the group lost a contract to supply 10 tones of potato products to Tuskys supermarket due to a lack of processing equipment.

She says that apart from the contracted growers, each member must grow a minimum of one acre of a potato sold to Kiwafa at a price offered to other farmers.

“With best farming practices, an acre produces up to 14 tones of Irish potato, and the members must also adhere to best practices. Their farms are also inspected by KEPHIS like in all other contracted farmers. We buy at aggregation stores where each farmer brings their produce. The contracted farmers are supplied with clean certified seeds from the group’s propagation farm. We are mainly relying on solar-driven equipment to reduce the cost of production,” said the chairperson.

The seeds are propagated under the supervision of Ms Wanjiku, the Kiwafa’s secretary who has a degree in laboratory technology.

Ms Muigai says a tuber of Irish potato of Shangi variety contains 17 percent starch, meaning they use 6 kilos of fresh potato to make 1kg of starch, buying a kilo of the raw potato between Sh30 and Sh70 depending on the season, and selling a kilo of the starch at Sh700.

All products go for Sh700 per kilo, but the group says starch is the main focus since they plan to venture into starch value addition soon, main target is ethanol which is in high demand.

While flour and cubes are sold in normal outlets including supermarkets, starch is mainly sold in food processing industries, pharmaceuticals, and other high consumers.

“Starch is in high demand, we are enlarging the processing room and stores whose capacities are limited, we are looking for a way to process the potato peelings into animal feeds, creating more jobs and supplying farmers with quality animal feed supplement,” says Ms Muigai.

She admits that marketing is a big frustration to new entrepreneurs, but the group is lucky to have members with marketing and ICT training, and support given by the county government department of trade.

“The county department of trade is very keen on marketing local products. They involve and support this in value addition attend exhibitions and other marketing forums. The latest was the Madaraka exhibition held in Embu County before Madaraka Day celebrations and during the Devolution Conference in Eldoret town when the county met all costs for exhibitors from the county,” said Ms Muigai.

Ms Agnes Njunji, the Trader and Cooperative Societies executive member says the county is determined to shift Nyandarua from being an exporter of raw materials.

“We are under firm instructions from Governor Kiarie Badilisha to support all value addition ventures in the county, we are proud of what Kiwafa is doing, we encourage more residents to go value addition, let them bring us the products and we play our role in marketing Nyandarua and our products locally and internationally,” said Ms Njunji.

She adds that apart from exposure and entrepreneurship skills given to the local investors, the county is also helping innovative traders in branding, trademarks, getting KEBS certification, and making a conducive manufacturing and business environment.

“A group like Kiwafa has created tens of jobs directly and indirectly, we have contracted farmers, transporters, and marking agents, and the trickling effects of what the Women are doing is bigger with an impact. We are here to give business advisory and technical support to our people” says Ms Njunji.

Ms Wamuigai confirms that the county has also brought them local and international visitors in farming and industrial processing, among them from Nigeria, and EU countries among others.

“Sometimes we are more busy handling visitors brought to us by the county government. It’s a good marketing strategy. We are already negotiating with some visitors from outside the country interested in buying the cubes and starch from us, this marketing strategy by the county is helping us explore the export market,” said Ms Muigai.

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