Kisii farmers triple earnings making banana queen cakes

A group of women in a savings group buffeted by banana glut in Kisii area have found fortunes in value addition which has tripled their earnings while opening up new business ventures that has provided employment to over 2,000 youth.

Started fifteen years ago as a merry- go-round 15 years ago, Kenyuni Women group watched as their bananas spoilt due to an oversupply which saw members sell them at measly prices. Their light bulb moment came when one of them fronted the idea of extending the shelf lives of bananas through making various consumer products.

Despite the many odds, the group with a membership of 20 now makes queen cakes, bread, biscuits, crisps, ugali flour, banana porridge and banana jam among other delicacies from the banana crop. The women say they came up with the idea after they discovered that middle men were exploiting them by giving then as little as Sh 100 per banana bunch.

Because of the high demand of their products by locals, the group agreed that each member plants at least 30 suckers or more with those who have large parcels of land to avoid a shortage of the crop. A visit to one of their farms where they get bananas for their mini bakery revealed that the group comprising of five widows is committed to fighting poverty through the venture.

According to the group leader Everline Onserio, the farm contains varieties of bananas including the ripening and baking varieties. “We have varieties which are only used for ripening and those for baking. Each member has planted some in her piece of land to avoid a shortage,” Onserio said.

Onserio explained that when the crop is ready, it is carefully harvested and treated with salt water so that they do not get dirty before they are transported on a motorbike to their ‘factory’ situated at Menyinkwa buying centre, a kilometre away. She said that they make bread, chapati and mandazi from ripened bananas which they sell to the public at affordable prices. “Even though we face many challenges in our business, we are committed to making our families earn a living through our small income,” Onserio said. “Our products are chemical free that is why we encourage people to buy and consume them. The biggest challenge we are facing is marketing. If we would have a ready market them we will be making brisk business,” she added.

The group leader says that most of what they make is purchased by the locals who flock their bakery from morning to evening because of the quality of the products. Most of the residents interviewed praised the group saying that their products are local and original compared to those sold in supermarkets. They said they have since changed their eating habits, diet and mostly consume the products because they are nutritious.

Onserio disclosed that apart from the locals, they receive customers from towns as far as Nairobi who order for cakes especially for wedding ceremonies. The women's leader said her group has a strict record keeping tradition monitored by Veronica Nafula whom they sponsored to go for training to study financial management. “As you see we keep records on daily transactions because we want to establish whether we are making progress or not. Initially when we didn’t have such records it was difficult for us to know the position of our business,” she said.

Showing one of the charts in their office, Nafula said the group used get Sh299, 000 before value addition annually but now they rake in Sh635,000 per year. Following their progress, a group member has since composed a Kiswahili poem in which she praises the banana as a plant that can help the community jump out of poverty.

At a time like this, when Kenyans are feeling the heat occasioned by inflation, Onserio said that food security can be attained if banana production and value addition is embraced. Onserio added: “I think time has come for Kenyans to change their eating habits and embrace ugali cooked from banana flour instead of maize flour,”

She called on well wishers to come to their aid and help them with funds to purchase baking equipment to increase their production. The leader asked the concerned authorities to assist them get a patent from Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) so that their products can be sold even in supermarkets and other outlets on limited time as they have to attend to other family duties.

But Kisii deputy mayor, Patrick Siro who is the area councillor and group patron is optimistic that the group will be successful in the long run. Siro said there is need for more funding to the group so that members can attain food security and improve their economic base. The Nyaura ward civic leader expressed optimism that the ongoing construction of a banana factory near Kisii town will help growers of the crop and alleviate poverty.

Members of the group underwent a 40- week training courtesy of the ministry of Agriculture, a few years back where were sensitized on how to plant, rear, harvest, handle the produce and add value so as to earn more money and they are reaping dividends from this venture. They got initial funding of Sh120,000 through the Njaa Marufuku Kenya and an additional Sh127,000 from Showmap, which they used to buy the modern disease resistant crop, rent a house and buy a few machines for the business.

Ben Mogaka a businessman said that such groups should be funded because it is the only way to fight poverty in the society. “Groups with such noble ideas should be funded because they play a pivotal role towards the realisation of vision 2030,” Mogaka said. Mogaka who is also secretary of the chamber of commerce, Kisii branch, said there is need to look for ways to enable the group get exposure through exhibitions.

He added Banks should give the group soft loans to enable them enhance their business. “I also call upon well wishers to come to the aid of the group saying as a chamber of commerce they will visit the group and see how they can be helped,” he added. Mogaka asked the constituency poverty eradication committees to pay the women a visit how they can help them because it is within their mandate.