A pumpkin harvest. Demand for the natural flours is high, given it is extracted from traditional foods high in nutritive value as well as energy.

A group of farmers from Kandara Sub County in Murang’a are making a fortune from a flour mill they have set up, targeting local agricultural products. In a week, they can make up to Ksh 20, 000 from selling the flour.

Pioneer Horticulture Self-Help Group mills pumpkin, arrow roots, cassava, yams and bananas into flour. which they sell to the locals as well as supermarkets stores.

The demand for the natural flours is high, given it is extracted from traditional foods high in nutritive value as well as energy.

It is either used to cook porridge or mixed with maize or wheat flour to prepare ugali or chapatti popular with Kenyans.

The idea of establishing a flour processing plant came about after interactions with experts in flour making.

“We then tapped into making flour from traditional crops that are not only common in our areas, but also are high in nutrients,” says the group’s chairman Frank Mungai.

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The group of about 12 farmers then approached the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP) for funding and received almost Ksh 200, 000, which they used to set up a drier and to buy mills. Then, they began by extracting oil from avocados which was not sustainable, due to the seasonality of the fruits.

“We had to spread our net wider and settled on these traditional crops because they are readily available,” he adds.

They source the produce from members themselves as well as the local community.

“We buy the produce at competitive prices so as to capture the market. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the capacity,” he adds.

The plant can handle about 10 tonnes in a single drying period before they take them for milling.

Describing the dynamics, Mungai said the process starts from harvesting the matured produce then thorough cleaning, then chopping into smaller pieces using a chuff-cutter. They are then soaked in a pro-biotic organic liquid called lacto-bacillus which is a preservative that also kills all bacteria.

“Once we source the produce, all sort them, then wash, chop into small sizes that can pass through the mill, then deep them into a preservative to kill bacteria, dry them at high temperatures of about 70 degrees Celsius, before milling and packaging,” he says.

Soaking takes 10 to 20 minutes, and then the pieces are transferred to a drying chamber, a room that is air-tight, fitted with meshed racks and thermometers to detect temperature changes.

The pieces take two to three days to dry before they are transferred to the miller where the produce is ground separately into fine flour.

The flour looks similar in colour after grinding but changes when cooking; for example the pumpkin flour will taint your ugali or chapati yellow. The flour is then packed into wrapping bags in sizes ranging from a quarter a kilo to one kilogram.

“The most expensive is the pumpkin since its processing is harder .Separating the seeds takes time, so we sell a kilo for 1,000 shillings. We sell others that don’t take much time to sort at Sh.500 a kilo,” he says.

A kilo of cassava flour sells at Ksh 200, yam Ksh 500 same as arrow roots.

“The flour is good and it contains all the minerals and vitamins without additives. With this the communities’ health and food security is well taken care of,” he adds

Since the drier gains its power from the sun, they are forced to close business during the rainy and cold seasons.

“This was the only way to kick away brokers who had fleeced us. We realised that agriculture pays well, but a lot of the money goes to the middlemen. We had to remove those bottlenecks and make farming profitable,” he says.

They intend to grow into a well recognised traditional flour value addition industry, consolidate all the traditional foods grown in the county as well as the neighbouring counties and have a streamlined market.

However, lack of adequate financial and technical support is curtailing their expansion programme and they are forced to work within their limited means.

“This project would have changed the dynamics of Kandara sub county. I don’t want to beg the government for help since they know that this project exists but we feel ignored,” he says.

As they plan to expand the company and the business, he advises farmers all over to go natural and never give up on their projects since the little they do is what matters and what counts.

“We plan to buy a high-capacity mill, increase the capacity of the drier, employ buying and marketing agents, and overhaul our current establishment. However, we need support,” says Mungai.

He notes that the group is working to achieve the government’s Big Four agenda on food security and manufacturing and thus should be supported.

Read: Plan B reaches for the stars but only reaches for the sky

“If supported to become an established value addition industry, we shall not only create wealth, increase food security but we will also create jobs for our farmers as well as the unemployed youth,” he says.

“The governments both county and national should focus and support those willing to make a mark in the society. This project is one of them. We intend to go far if given support,” he says.

By Keith Abonyo/ Muoki Charles

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