Serem market in Vihiga County is a busy centre with traders hawking various farm produce that include vegetables, potatoes, fruits, cereals and bananas.
However, while many farmers sell their produce raw to middlemen, one group is doing things differently.
Hamisi Horticultural Development Group (HHDG) processes bananas into flour and makes a variety of products that include cakes, biscuits, crisps, doughnuts, bread, ugali and, ooh, chapatis.
The group operates a banana processing plant at Serem market.
“Banana is as good as maize or wheat when it comes to making various products. It is a versatile crop once you know how to add value,” says Margaret Amimo, the secretary of HHDG, which consists of 40 members.
The group buys at least 20 bunches of bananas from farmers every week to process the products.
“We buy a bunch at Sh450 spending Sh9,000. Individual members also grow bananas and sell to the group at the same price.”
From the farm, the bananas are weighed to estimate the cost incurred, which is recorded in a book.
They are then separated into two. Some of them are put in a ripening machine where they will later be used to make cakes while the rest is processed into flour for making bread, chapati, porridge (uji) and mandazi.
To make flour, the bananas are separated into clusters and washed thoroughly in clean water and, thereafter, peeled manually.
They are then put into a slicing machine where they are chopped into small pieces and later placed in a solar drier.
“An electric drier takes only 20 minutes to complete the process, but we use a solar one, which takes two days, because it is cheap,” says Amimo.
The farmers use some of the dried slices to make crisps by deep-frying.
“We pack the banana crisps in 20 to 50g sachets which sell for Sh10 and Sh30 each respectively,” says Amimo, adding that the products have a shelf-life of three to four months.
The rest of the dried slices are crushed into flour using a machine.
Abraham Ludeshi, a member of the group, says a bunch of bananas consisting of 15 to 30 pieces produces a kilo of flour, which is sold at Sh300.
“We mix a kilo of banana flour with 800g of wheat flour then we add 200g of ripe bananas to make cookies, bread, chapati and mandazi.
Banana flour has no binding properties that is why we mix it with a small portion of wheat flour. But when making porridge, you don’t need to add wheat flour,” says Amimo, who was recently awarded by Ministry of Agriculture and Elgon Kenya for improving food security.
No additives are needed to make banana porridge other than boiling water, adding the flour and stirring until it becomes fine.
On the other hand, to make the cakes, one first peels the ripe bananas and cuts them into slices, which are then mixed with wheat and banana flour. Ingredients such as eggs, sugar and baking powder are then added.
“Two eggs, two tablespoons of sugar and some baking powder make a medium-sized cake,” says Amimo, a retired biology teacher who is the brains behind the group.
They make three dozens of cakes every day, with each going at Sh200 generating for them more than Sh20,000 profit per month, which they reinvest in the business.
“We expect the sales to grow as people get used to the products,” says Amimo, adding they learnt the skills at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, Kisii office.
The mixture is thoroughly whisked until it becomes fine then put in an electric oven to bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.
“We sell the banana cakes at between Sh20 and Sh120 per pack,” says Christopher Abuku, a member of HHDG.
The group sells their products in Kakamega, Kisumu, Busia and Siaya, raking in total Sh80,000 a month.
“Initially, we would sell our bananas at between Sh300 and Sh350 but with value addition, a bunch of bananas gives us between Sh1,000 and Sh1,200,” says Ludeshi of the project that was set up in 2009 at a cost of Sh3.5 million by Western Kenya Community Special Programme, a government initiative started as part of flood mitigation programme under the then Ministry of Special Programmes, and the World Bank after the group wrote a proposal.
“We have also created employment for 10 youths. We are training them on value addition and pay them Sh200 every day for work done.”
John Achacha, a researcher with Kenya Industrial and Development Research Institute, Kisumu says using bananas to make cakes and porridge helps to expand consumption.