Meru Farmers Group Grows Profits by Value Addition

Meru Farmers Group Grows Profits by Value Addition

As farmers increasingly turn to value addition to earn more while increasing the shelf life of their perishables, demand from both local and export markets are opening up as health conscious customers express insatiable appetite for their produce.

To meet this burgeoning demand, the farmers have found new lifeline in community based farmer organizations.

Imenti Community-Based Organisation, ICOBO, based in Meru has been a classic case study. Started in 2004 when 25 smallholder farmers decided to start a group that would be growing and selling passion fruits and tree tomatoes, the group has now metamorphosed into a value addition behemoth with a host of products including banana flour and animal feeds to its name.

It has also been contracting over 2,000 farmers to grow various produce for them bananas, arrowroots, arrowroot leaves, stinging nettle leaves, Moringa Oleifera leaves, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pumpkin seed among other indigenous produce which are dried and milled.

But it hasn’t been a smooth roller coaster for the group. At the beginning, they could earn up to Sh, 200,000 every month out of the export of arrow roots. But their new-found venture didn’t last long because they couldn’t meet the weekly demand.

Calamity struck when their passion fruits and tree tomatoes were heavily hit by diseases and pests. At the same time, the European market that formed their primary market enforced strict standards which threatened their exports.

They took a hiatus but would later come back strong as the passion to succeed oiled their resolve. That is how they ventured into value addition.

The farmers received a drier worth Sh480, 000 from USAID through the Kenya Horticultural Competitiveness Programme (KHCP) last year enabling them to boost their production capacity.

Currently they export 12 tonnes of bananas every three months. The firm produces several banana products. It also recently won a contract to export bananas to Hungary.

Kiambi said ICOBO also makes animal feed from banana peel and organic fertiliser from the main banana stem.

“We export 12 tonnes with a value of Sh450 per kilogram,” Paul Kiambi the organization’s Director said. The cleanliness of the shipment and hygiene of the containers is ensured,” resolving any fears associated with production and processing,” said Kiambi.

In Kenya, more than 9,700 hectares are under banana plantation and more than 50,000 farmers grow bananas either on small or large scale, producing more than 4,390 tonnes a year valued at Sh6 billion.

Meru was ranked first in banana production countrywide in 2016 at 17 per cent, followed by Kirinyaga at 11 per cent, Murang’a 9.5 per cent, Kisii 7.9 per cent and Tharaka Nithi at 5.7 per cent.

Meru’s Imenti South leads in banana growth followed by Imenti Central and North, Tigania is last in this order, as it is a  dry area.

Beyond bananas, the company has moved into adding value to indigenious vegetables.

In Meru, a lot of nutritious vegetables go to waste or are fed to animals. The company is now drying the vegetables and making powder which is long lasting and reduces wastage. They now make sales of up to Sh500, 000 in a good month. This, as they seek to to tap into the booming demand for indigenous foods whose supply has remained low over the years. The organization sorts, cleans, slices, dries and mills the produce into flour for sale.

“We produce flour from pumpkin, banana, sweet potato as well as powder of Moringa Oleifera, stinging nettle, amaranth and arrowroot leaves. All the products go for between Sh100 and 350 per kilo except for Moringa Oleifera powder which goes for Sh2, 500 and stinging nettle Sh800 a kilo,” Kiambi said. Kiambi added that there has been increasing interest in the powder and flour beyond Meru borders.

“We are now getting a lot of interest for the flour and vegetable powder in the arid counties and big towns. The products are gaining popularity because they are durable and nutritious. Indigenous products can be used as food supplements but can also be consumed separately.”

The group makes Organic Fertilizer from the peels from banana, arrowroot and sweet potatoes. “we used to throw away the waste after peeling off but a research led us to use peels to make organic fertilizer,” says Kiambi. The peels are dried using solar energy, they are then milled to a fine flour, which is then mixed with agricultural lime, chicken and cattle manure becoming a high quality manure. The fertilizer helps in reducing soil acidity and is also high in moisture contents which improves soil texture making it compact to reduce soil erosion.

The fertilizer also contains other minerals such as potassium, magnesium, phosphate and copper. It is packed into 50 kilograms bags and in a day the group can make 15 bags. “Getting government approval and licensing was long and frustrating process, but our organic fertilizer managed to pass quality standards and the laid down packaging standards,” ICOBO director said. Commercial production of this fertilizer started entirely in 2014.

According to the director, the farmers are now looking into ways of mechanizing the  value addition processes to cut costs and increase production. “Currently we have to peel and slice the fruits and tubers using our hands which is tedious and time consuming.

To meet the export market demand, we need at least three driers of one tonne capacity each as well as peeling and slicing machines. We are sourcing for funding to help us get the machines,” he says.

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