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Discovery drives wheat expert into business

Wednesday October 9 2013

PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE Dr Njoroge Kimani, a clinical biochemist at Kenyatta National Hospital, at his wheat grass demonstration centre in Kikuyu.

PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE Dr Njoroge Kimani, a clinical biochemist at Kenyatta National Hospital, at his wheat grass demonstration centre in Kikuyu.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

BILLY MUIRURI
By BILLY MUIRURI
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After working at the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Kenyatta National Hospital for 20 years, Dr Njoroge Kimani would certainly know a lot about health.

He is not a medical doctor but his long stay at the unit, now named critical care unit (CCU), presented unique situations that compelled him to take a keen interest in maintaining health, if only to avoid illnesses that landed patients at the unit, often regarded as a live-or-die section of the hospital. 

And after many years of research as a clinical biochemist (he has a Master’s degree in medical biochemistry), Njoroge discovered one important but seemingly ordinary crop — wheat.

It is research on this crop and its nutritional value that has enabled Njoroge to utilise his entrepreneurial skills and put up a multi-million shilling production unit of wheat grass products. 

It is not a confectionary or a bakery. It is simply a wheat grass products factory.

Njoroge specialises in products of wheat grass, a plant found to possess huge amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

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Research by Kenyatta University’s Prof Eliud Njagi and Kenyatta National Hospital’s Dr Ochanda Mbuya shows that the grass, normally harvested when only seven days old, has 13 minerals and 16 vitamins. These include vitamins A and E, folic acid, iron, and selenium — an antioxidant used to heal tumours.

“I wanted to discover scientifically the strength of wheat grass on the human body. That is why these high-level scholars have been part of the research,” says Mr Njoroge. 

WHEAT GRASS PRODUCTS

At his Ondiri farm near Kikuyu town is Springs Farm Natural Products factory that employs 10 youths and has a monthly turnover of more than half-a-million shillings. He grows wheat grass in a controlled environment and harvests it.

“We do everything here. We grow the wheat grass and make four products: Ready-to-drink juice, its powder, and wheat grass-enriched maize flour for porridge or ugali,” says Mr Njoroge. 

The research started in 2004 but he ventured into commercial production in 2006. In five years, Mr Njoroge’s products have been approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

“We have branded all of them and we sell them at retail outlets,” he says. 

Uchumi supermarket is a major outlet for the products, but an impromptu survey by the Money team also found the products at Cleanshelf, Fairmatt, Satellite supermarkets and Zucchini Green Grocers. “We have our own outlets in Kikuyu and Nairobi,” adds Njoroge. 

The venture is an apt example of bio entrepreneurship, a concept where natural products are researched and commercially produced. “These products are not medicines but food supplements,” he clarifies. 

Our interview is constantly interrupted by people with chronic conditions who come to buy the supplements.

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