Caroline Mbogo

Caroline Mbogo processing flour from bananas.

| Richard Maosi | Nation Media Group

Women group mills profits from bananas

What you need to know:

  • Kikai Foods is run by a group of women who turn bananas, pumpkin, sweet potato and arrowroots into sweet flour that they sell for blending of cereal flours for nutritious products.
  • The group uses social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to market their products.

Our four-hour drive from Nairobi ends up at Kaigoro village, some 12 kilometres from Embu Town.

Bananas are the most-farmed crops in the area and this can be attested by not only the numerous plants on farms but also the high number of traders ferrying them to the market on donkey carts and wheelbarrows.

“We have a favourable climate here for banana farming; the crops are grown and harvested all the year round," says farmer Caroline Mbogo, 28, one of the members of Kaigoro Women Group, which runs Kikai Foods.

The women began as a table banking project, where members contributed money every month for investment.

They would then lend each other as they engaged in small-scale value addition of bananas.

“I joined the group in 2014 soon after graduating with a Diploma in Fashion Design from a college in Nairobi. My mother was the chairperson of the group.”

In 2015, the group decided to enter an agribusiness competition.

"I filled the forms for them and we emerged position three, thus they chose me to represent them in a year training in financial management," says Caroline.

Caroline Mbogo

Caroline Mbogo processing flour from bananas.

Photo credit: Richard Maosi | Nation Media Group

The women then formed Kikai Foods to engage in value addition and picked Caroline as the director.  

In 2017, Caroline and other members approached the Ministry of Agriculture to learn modern value addition techniques

“We learnt how to erect a simple solar dryer which we started to use to dry raw bananas,” she says, adding they also received Sh220,000 grant from an NGO known as Show-Map

An additional grant of Sh120,000 came from another NGO called Njaa Marufuku.

They used the money to purchase a posho mill to crush the dried bananas, a vegetable chipper to slice fruits and a bio electric dryer that would be used as an alternative of solar, to dry vegetables and fruits during the wet seasons.

“We now process dried pumpkin, cassava, arrowroots, sweet potatoes and raw bananas. The produce comes from 50 contracted farmers in Embu, we dry and then process,” says Caroline.

Nutritional value

"Raw bananas are the cheapest, as we buy a kilo at between Sh10 and Sh12 per kilo during the wet season and Sh15-Sh20 in dry period.”

Once the produce is received from the farmer, it is sorted, weighed, cleaned and sliced then put in the solar dryer.

“The dryer measures 3 by 4 metres, has two storey trays that are elevated one metre from the ground to keep away mites and termites away. The dryer can accommodate up to 100 kilos of fresh produce. We obtain a kilo of dry bananas from six kilos of green produce,” she says.

On the other hand, some 9.5 kilos of pumpkin and five kilos of arrowroots produce a kilo of floor.

“For the bananas, we do not peel the produce to make flour since the green cover has good nutritional value,”  says Caroline. 

However, when making banana crisps, they peel the fruits, slice and then deep fry.

During the sunny season, it takes one-and-half days to dry raw fruits, while during the cold period, it takes three days.

Marketing channels

Once dried, the produce is packed in sacks and then stored awaiting milling according to customer demand.

"Some buyers prefer banana flour that is blended with pumpkin, sorghum, soya and peanut butter, depending on customer needs,” says Caroline.

A kilo of pumpkin and cassava flour goes for Sh350, banana flour Sh250 while flour from arrowroots goes for Sh500 per kilo. 

“We have so far employed 11 youths who serve in different sections, from receiving, sorting, cleaning, marketing, transportation and marketing the produce.”

Some of the products are sold to traders in bulk, from 100 to 150 kilos where they are repackaged and sold in Nairobi, Thika, Malindi, Mombasa and Embu town.

Faith Njiru, 58, a member of the group, says the group has handed many farmers ready market.  
“Value addition has helped us earn more from bananas. One does not make much money when selling raw produce because of high supply,” she says.

She adds that with value addition, they curbed the problem of their produce spoiling due to lack of good storage.

Faith Njiru

Faith Njiru, a member of Kikai Foods at a value addition forum, in Embu with their produce. 

Photo credit: Pool

“We would throw away most bananas or feed them to livestock,” she says.

The group uses social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to market their products as other customers come through referrals.

The current cold season is one of their challenges as the products take longer to dry, sometimes developing mould.

James Kinyua, an agri-processing engineer from Agriculture Technology Development Centre in Nakuru, says value addition on fruits and vegetables increase the life span of farm produce.

Kinyua says sun-drying or dehydration removes active moisture and stops growth of micro-organisms thus prolonging the shelf-life. Fruits such as avocados can be dried then stored and used later to extract oil that is highly nutritious.

"Farmers can store their dried produce for long and make good fortunes when demand is high and the market fetches good prices," he adds.

He noted that solar drying is one of the best and cheapest method of adding value to produce as solar energy is readily available to everyone.