Farmer quenches locals' thirst with weed juice

At a time when farmers have been busy removing weeds from their field, one woman has been busy planting them, making juices from them tripling her income and wining admiration from scientists and the continent at a time when industry players are heightening call for value addition. Sixty-year-old Margaret Wanjiru who farms in Rongai uses loathed weeds like  blackjack, pigweed, Lantana camara, yellow sorrel, and wandering Jew which she mixes with indigenous vegetables to make nutritional juices whose health benefits nutritionists say include protecting the liver, heart diseases and preventing cancer.

Making the juice is simple, says Mrs. Wanjiru. “I boil water in a big pan. After boiling, I remove the water from [the] fire, wash the weeds and immerse the weeds in it, including the stalks, and keep stirring, then cover it.” After the juice has cooled, she sieves and pours it into containers, adding lemon as a preservative. The juice is then ready to drink. Her clientele spans from ordinary housewives to hotels, schools and hospitals across the country. The profit from selling the weeds is triple that of selling the weeds which she used to do before. “I used to sell the weeds when cooked and health conscious consumers would eat them, however due to scarcity as a result of long dry spell, I had to think of another way to still be in business with the little I have.

That is how I started the juice making venture which surprisingly has picked up so well,”said Wanjiru. A paper bag of the weeds produces some eight litres of juice with a litre going for Sh250. That bag of weeds cost Sh100 which explains why she has found it lucrative in value addition. Every week she sells about 100 litres. Wanjiru's favourite juice is what she calls Jack Shade, a mixture of black jack weed and night shade vegetables which she says is good in curing colds, heartburn, arthritis and assist in anti aging. She takes a glass every morning and evening. “If you look at me I look ten years younger. That is my secret,”she quipped. Wanjiru says she learnt the business of weeds and their benefits from her grandmother back in 1962 when she would escort her to the farm.

She learned that different varieties of weeds were eaten many years ago, though people do not know about them now. She made a resolve in the 90's to go for weed farming. She has now planted the weeds in a half acre piece of land.  Before making the juice she first extract the seeds from the weed, and preserves them for the next planting season. “The beauty with the weeds is that they just grow even without manure,” she said. But it has been a delicate trade since not all weeds are fit for human consumption. She has had to work with scientists who have assisted her in identifying the best weeds to domesticate. “While there are a few dangerous weeds that can kill, we have hundreds which are very beneficial to humans with majority reducing the chances of cancer. It has been a huge success for Wanjiru's venture,”said Moses Minati a scientist who has been working with Wanjiru. Most of Wanjiru’s clients consume a five litre container of juice in about three weeks.

She says, “I tell my fellow Africans: let’s go back to our traditional foods and vegetables. These days people are lazy; they don’t want to go to the garden and collect the vegetables. But if you are a farmer and continue eating these vegetables, you will remain healthy.” Wanjiru has been invited in many agricultural trade fairs and seminars across the continent to explain the economic aspect of value addition and benefits of traditional vegetables. Scientists have also pitched tent in her farm in a bid to learn more about the weeds and how else they can be used commercially by farmers.