Okoigama: A women’s group born out of 2007/8 poll chaos

Okoigama Self Help Group

Okoigama Self Help Group members cut pumpkins and banana into perforated trays ready for drying at one of the members homestead in Menyikwa in Kisii on September 22, 2022. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

One of the aftermaths of the bloody 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya was an economic downturn.

Many businesses were hit following the turmoil that claimed hundreds of lives, displacements and widespread destruction of property.

When things cooled down a little, six women in Menyinkwa village, Kisii District – now County – formed a self-help group. They named the group Okoigama, which translates to “shed” in the local dialect.

The women would meet on agreed days and do a “ merry-go-round” of Sh200 per person. The money went directly into savings.

After a while, they began taking loans from the savings. The interest was shared among the women at the end of every year.

The group members used the small loans to improve their individual greengrocery and other small businesses, most of which were on road reserves.

Months later, Okoigama Self-Help Group membership grew to 18 and now stands at 21.

The women agreed to formally register the group in 2018. While at the Kisii County Agriculture offices, they encountered other groups.

The difference was that the other groups were getting grants from donors and the government for their projects.

Okoigama

Okoigama Self-Help Group members pose with dried banana and pumpkin  in Menyikwa on September 22.
 


Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

After intensive discussions, Okoigama group agreed to begin adding value to bananas.

The crop is widely grown in Kisii and Nyamira counties but farmers make very little from it.

“We realised that middlemen had taken over the business and were dictating banana prices. Farmers were getting almost nothing. That is why we decided to add value to bananas,” Ms Hellen Moraa, a member, told Seeds of Gold.

“We attended several workshops and training on value-addition and realised bananas could earn us and farmers good money.”

The Seeds of Gold team visited a member’s homestead to witness the drying of bananas and pumpkins.

Some of the products find themselves in the international market.

Okoigama group buys a kilogramme of raw bananas at Sh10 and Sh12 during the rainy seasons and Sh15 to Sh20 in the dry months.

Group members mostly grow the pumpkins though they buy some at Sh80 for a 5-kilo fruit.

Once the bananas or pumpkins are received from a farmer, they are weighed, cleaned, sorted, peeled and then sliced.

The slices are placed in black perforated trays called dehydrators. The trays cover the sliced bananas and help keep away mites, flies and other insects.

“The trays with bananas are arranged in a wooden rack-like structure and allowed to dry for three to four days, depending on the weather,” Kelvin Ayako, a young man who joined the group, says.

The dryer can accommodate up to 90 kilogrammes of fresh produce.

“Five kilogrammes of green bananas and ripe pumpkins produce a kilo of dried product,” Ms Moraa says.

The dry bananas and pumpkins are then packed in polythene bags and stored at Okoigama group’s building in  Menyinkwa.

Dried bananas or pumpkins can be used to make flour that is blended with sorghum, soya or peanut butter.

“A kilo of dried bananas goes for Sh300 while one for pumpkins is Sh350,” Ayako says.

All the group members are engaged in the production.

Okoigama Self-Help Group makes at least Sh50,000 on a good month. All the money goes into savings that is then given to members and non-members as loans at 10 and 20 per cent interest respectively.

The group wants to increase production capacity in five years.

Members interviewed said the money saved will be used to purchase solar driers and other equipment to improve efficiency.

Since the benefits of the Sh150 million European Union and Kisii County government-funded banana processing plant have not largely been felt by locals, Okoigama Self-Help Group’s vision is to shield farmers from brokers and exploitation.

Group members say they hope Okoigama will be a leading entity that will buy raw bananas and ripe pumpkins from locals for processing and in turn pay the families for the efforts put in.

Banana is the leading food and cash crop in Kisii and Nyamira counties. Kisii is the top banana producer in the country.

The area under bananas is around 6,350 hectares. The county produces almost 360,000 tonnes of bananas every year.

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