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Vihiga farmer group increase earnings by adding value to bananas

A group of farmers in Vihiga county are adding value to their bananas, giving their produce longer shelf life, earning more than triple from the venture and creating an entreprise that has economically empowered over 50 farmers.

Hamisi Horticultural Development Group, consists of farmers who predominantly cultivated bananas in one area but who, upon harvesting, had to deal with the age old twin problem of market glut and poor market price.

But thorough consultation among themselves and with some buyers inspired the idea of coming together to form an outfit that would give meaning to their banana farming. They decided to venture into adding value to the banana by making products like cakes, doghnuts, chapatis and banana flour. Pooling together resources they purchased a machine that would help in drying bananas.

The group buys at least 20 banana bunches at Sh450 per bunch either from members or from Serem market where it operates the processing business.  On average the group spends Sh9,000 on the purchase per week.

Depending on whether the bananas will be used to make flour or cakes and snacks, they are separated with those to be used to make the latter being ripened.

A modest solar dryer is used to dry the bananas upon peeling which are then dried to from crisps and banana flour with a crisps packaged in 20, 30 40 and 50 gramme sachets. A 50gm sachet costs Sh50, with a kilo of flour selling at Sh300.

Under the ripened bananas the flagship products include cakes and chapatis with the group managing to  make three dozens of cakes daily, with a dozen retailing at Sh200. This translates to Sh20,000. “It is a very viable business model which we hope to replicate to other produce,especially the perishable produce in our county. It has opened another avenue where the members get paid to do what they love while getting rid of their despair. Every member in this group earns a decent income at the end of the month, while we also re invest some of the profit we get into the business,” said Margaret Amimo, the group’s secretary.

For farmers who used to earn Sh350 for a bunch of bananas now earning Sh1200 from the same quantity with value addition, the members now seemed hooked to the project for life. “But we have had to instill a lot of discipline as this kind of business requires such to flourish. We are glad it is paying off,” Margaret said.

The farmer group is now looking into investing in modern machines to boost production capacity to whet growing demand. For example the solar dryer they use as the first process in drying bananas take on average two days. An electric one would take two hours. “The market has opened for us in a huge way especially in the neighbouring counties where orders keep coming. Word of the mouth has also reached customers as far as Nairobi and Mombasa. We dont want to stop producing, we want to reach all this farmers. Production capacity therefore is crucial to us,” Margaret added.

To the thousands of farmers struggling with an over supply, Margaret advices on modestly moving into value addition whether as a single farmer or as a group. “Simple techniques like naturally drying and grinding the bananas not only increases the shelf life of the bananas, but also more than triple the earnings of the farmer. The market, even small scale has grown tremendously,” Margaret further added.

Upon harvesting a banana takes on average ten days before going bad, while a dried banana or one whose value has been added even modestly goes up to four months.

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