A group of Nzoia River farmers is to seek Kenya Bureau of Standards testing for a salt they are processing from a local reed to sell as cooking salt and to local health centres for the salt’s medicinal value, which includes the claimed ability to cure snake and spider bites.
The muchua plant, a type of thin reed, grows in the waters of the River Nzoia in the dry season from September to March. It reaches a height of about two meters and is ready for harvesting when its flowers wilt and the highest leaves are almost dried out. Before then the salt concentration is too low.
The farmers harvest the reed from the river and leave it to dry for a day, before burning it on a slow fire with the aim of harvesting the ash from the reed. Once fully burnt, the farmers then pick the residue ash and mix it with hot water and with modest filtering machine sieves the dirt to remain with the ash water which they then proceed to boil.
Once the liquid has fully evaporated, a salty mash forms on the bottom of the boiling can, it is this mash that is collected and packed into banana leaves and later dried under hot ashes for two to three days.
The dried salt with pepper being added to it for flavouring is later placed in a spread polythene bag from where the farmers sit to package the leaves in small quantities retailing at between Sh10 to Sh300.
A venture which modestly began in 2009 has now spanned the entire Nzoia area with farmers groups claiming the demand has forced them to increase the area under which the plant is grown.
The earnings for the reed salt farmers happens during the weekly market days when “having taken around 3 bags of 90kgs, we go home with the bags empty, because the demand is so high from hotels, households and local health centres,” said Raphael Simiyu, one of the members of the Luvike Farmers group that extracts the salt.
Simiyu attributes the brisk sale to the knowledge that has existed in the area from the 17th Century and was passed on to generations about the medicinal value of the salt compared to conventional salt.
The group is now taking the salt sample to the Kenya Bureau of Standards for quality testing since their market is only localized. At the moment, supermarkets and other large chain stores cannot stock the reed salt since it hasn’t been officially approved by the quality board.
The group want to roll out the sale of the salt countrywide and regionally, with their eyes set on Southern Sudan as a young and emerging market. “Besides we have seen that the few Southern Sudanese around are among our frequent customers and we are keen to tap into that market,” said Simiyu.
Kanzonde Health Centre a medical unit in the area uses the reed salt to treat cuts, burns and spider bites. The clinical officer Matthew Kinga says the reed salt acts well as an antiseptic. “We use it to clean wounds and it works well like the synthetic antiseptics,” he said.
Production and burning of the reed into salt is an age-old practice among the Bukusu people, which they practiced in the 17th Century before the salt was replaced by the more convenient imported marine salt brought with British colonisation.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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