A value addition self help group in Nakuru is assisting smallholder farmers diversify their income with the practice of extracting milk from soya beans to make soyamilk being among its most successful venture which is now earning each farmer at least Sh30,000 every month.
Reuben Ng’ang’a like any other small scale farmer could only think of rearing chicken, planting maize and other cereals in his two acre piece of land. But a visit to Edgewood Value Addition self help group changed his perception of farming changed making him realize the untapped potential of crops like soya bean and the fortunes that lay in adding value to them.
"My land was hardly enough to keep dairy cows and other livestock, so I sought alternatives to reap maximum benefits from the farm" said Ng'ang'a. The farmer says after the trip to the group, all he could think about was how he could invest in making soya milk. Since then, the crop has changed his life. The farming project started with two kilogrammes of soya seeds bought from the former Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. "We bought the two kilogrammes at a cost of Sh300. We were advised to buy Nyala and Gazelle that produce best milk," Ng'ang'a said. From the two kilogrammes, Ng'ang'a harvested 90 kilogrammes after seven months. Since he started farming soya, he no longer buys cow milk for his household.
He also used the by-products to feed and treat his animals. For his family consumption, Ng'ang'a uses half a kilo of soya beans to produce two litres of milk. "Half a kilo soya costs Sh50 hence it is economical because I can get two litres. The same amount of cow milk costs Sh70," Ng'ang'a says. The extracted milk is sold at Sh30-40 per litre, but Ng'ang'a. The only problem is they cannot produce enough to meet the demand.
Ng'ang'a says the dry season which starts in January to March is their busiest because demand is high since feeding cows during that period is expensive. "The period has insufficient animal fodder hence low milk production which forces farmers and residents to use soya milk," Ng'ang'a says. He also produces cooking fat, flour, ugali, soya beverage. "I have been growing various crops in my piece of land ranging from sweet potatoes, cassava bananas, and various fruits and due to small size of the land, but value addition the secret to prosperity" Ng'ang'a says.
Cassava, bananas and sweet potatoes are dried and crushed to make flour, which he sells to the locals to earn a living. Ng'ang'a said his children are healthy and rarely fall sick because they consume soya milk and other plants grown under organic farming. "This value addition farming has improved my life to educate and pro-vide for my family and also purchase a prime plot therefore I do not regret joining it," Ng'ang'a said. He regrets that he and the rest of the group are unable to meet the demand. "We have missed several contracts from supermarkets and other institutions due to low production as we use traditional method of extraction," he said.
The group is looking to raise Sh300,000 to buy an extraction plant. Low temperatures also hinder growth of soya in the area limiting their harvest to once a year rather than twice like in areas with high temperatures. To market their produce, farmers have embraced a door-to-door marketing strategy, media and attending numerous agricultural exhibitions in the last three years. The group expects a Sh100,000 grant from the Njaa Marufuku programme, an initiative established in 2005 under the Ministry of Agriculture to boost small-scale farming. "The Ministry of Agriculture has supported us through training and funding," Ng'ang'a said.
The beans are soaked in hot water for 15-30 minutes to make removal of the coat easy. "It is not advisable to soak the soya bean in cold water because it produces bad smell which will change the quality of milk," Ng'ang'a said.
The group uses traditional way of crushing the beans using a tree trunk with a hole at the middle (mortar) using a metal bar (pestle). "The crushed soya is mixed with hot water. The amount of water added determines the quality of milk. If someone re-quires thick milk, less water is added and vice versa but one should careful not to dilute it too much," Ng'ang'a said. The final stage is to squeeze and sieve the mixture with a clean white cotton cloth. The milk is then boiled for preservation.