A banana processing plant in Kisii town is producing an assortment of wines, cakes, crisps and floor, albeit at local level, pending official launch.
The only one of its kind in Kenya, the mill has been operational since May, this year, benefitting scores of area residents.
With a capacity to process two tonnes of raw bananas a day, the plant is an initiative informed by value-addition, an important aspect of modern crop production that increases market competitiveness compared with the traditional way of consumption.
One aspect of value-addition is elimination of perishability once processed; also supply can be controlled to ensure farmers and processors do not get a raw deal due to oversupply.
A brainchild of the government through the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (Kirdi), its construction began in 2008 and the pilot project started the following year.
After official launch, the factory will go full scale to supply supermarkets and other outlets as soon as it gets the greenlight from the Kenya Bureau of Standards, a process that is underway.
Mr William Thari, a research scientist at Kirdi, Kisii centre, said the area is awash with bananas, a fact that makes value-addition viable, with an assured supply of raw material.
“Our baseline research proved that supply can comfortably sustain production for as long as it takes,” he said.
“With all signs pointing to success, we can only tell farmers to roll up their sleeves and replicate the idea in this region and beyond. We can confirm that money is available and I don’t know what else an investor would be looking for,” said Mr Thari.
Surplus production of bananas has exposed farmers to brokers, who know that farmers have no choice but to sell to them at low rates.
Things are, however, beginning to look bright for producers as they are being empowered to bargain for better terms.
They have an option of organising themselves into groups and link up with Kirdi to process bananas.
Alternatively, they can sell bananas to groups that are dealing directly with the processor at predetermined prices.
“Farmers get about Sh300 for a bunch of bananas but when processed into different products, the value increases to Sh2,000. Out of this, Sh1,000 meets the cost of production, leaving the rest as profit,” said Mr Thari.
He said the need to create more wealth out of this resource informed the government’s decision to invest in the innovative undertaking.
“If fully exploited, we will no longer be talking of food insecurity and unemployment here and in other parts of the country endowed with this crop,” said the researcher.
To ensure that the facility is utilised optimally by farmers, Mr Thari said they work with various groups to train them on how to refine their bananas into forms that are competitive in the market.
“We are now working with youth groups for business incubation purposes to hasten the change from the rudimentary methods they have been used to,” he said.
To ensure that the equipment is maintained constantly, Kirdi has an arrangement with these groups, which sees them contribute some cash, depending on the quantity of raw materials to be processed.
“We have spent about Sh400,000 in maintaining and buying processing components since last year,” said Mr Thari.
Nyangorora is one of such groups. It is making cakes, wines, flour and crisps that it sells to locals.
Mrs Aska Kerubo, a group member and quality controller, said they have tasted the fruit of the initiative.
“Tired of exploitation by middlemen, who would buy our crops and make a fortune from them, we opted to organise ourselves into a group and then went to Kirdi with our proposal. Fortunately, they accepted it,” she said
Kirdi is encouraging more groups to come forth and make use of the development.
In the region, Uganda has been at the forefront of banana production. The crop is one of its staple foods.
In fact, the establishment of a presidential commission to oversee the management of banana plantations has boosted farming in the country.
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