A project launched two years ago to assist Murang’a farmers preserve surplus produce and stem glut has now opened international marketing opportunities as buyers from as far as South Sudan scramble for value added products market, which has seen farmer income grow by as much as 50 percent.
The project involves farmers drying surplus produce by assembling a locally made solar dryer shaped like a polythene dome that is delivering a value added, year-round market for their produce, across both fruit and vegetables.
With the help of private food marketing company, Azuri Health Ltd, the farmers now dry their fruit and vegetable crops to make high-value products, such as thinly sliced fruits, including mangoes that are packaged and sold as snacks that are increasingly popular among urban shoppers. Vegetables such as beans are pre-cooked and the dried product turned into a meal in just a few minutes, to make a ready food ideal for busy families with little time for cooking.
The dryer is modeled to retain as much heat as possible within the polythene dome, with temperatures in the dome getting as high as 70 degrees. The black polythene traps the heat and beneath it is a layer of sand that sees the heat retained. An extractor fan takes away the hot moisture coming from the fruits and vegetables and completes the drying process.
“There is a thermometer that regulates the temperature and allows us to project the maximum time that each produce should be dried, because the products can get over dried and burn. Close monitoring is very important,” said Tei Mukunya the Managing Director of Azuri Kenya.
The modest dryer is a far cry from the mainstream dehydrator designed to dry to a high quality, but which is beyond the means of many of the farmers, at a cost of around Sh28,000 from local suppliers such as the Vibrant Health Organization.
Hygiene has also been a concern for the farmers in the drying process, with the majority of the fruits going bad due to poor handling. However, Azuri Health has now introduced farmer field days training farmers on how best to preserve their commodities.
Preserving fruit and vegetables has many advantages, including the big addition in value that it creates. For example, two raw banana fingers weighing an average 200 to 240 grams will sell for Sh50 to Sh60. But the same volume of bananas dried sell for Sh150 at local health stores.
Farmers who dry their produce also manage to spread their earnings across the year, selling at times when prices are higher and improving their own family’s diet, by retaining some of their produce for times when fresh produce is hard to find.
It is estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables are wasted in farms and markets, because they perish before consumption. But dried fruits and vegetables last from 12 to 18 months.
Azuri Health has partnered with over 600 farmers predominantly in Central and Western Kenya. While farmers carry out the processing of the products, Azuri handles the marketing, distribution and sales on behalf of the farmers. The farmers have managed to cross to regional markets with the products now selling even in Sudan.
Azuri Health reports annual sales of Sh12m, with some of the products farmers are now drying and packaging including Nutriporridge flour, Sweet Potato Flour, Kahurura Powder (made from a plant in the pumpkin family), sweet potato cookies, and a range of dried fruits such as mangoes and pineapples.