The former teacher leading a banana revolution in Vihiga

For retired teacher Margaret Amimo, agriculture was always growing traditional crops like maize and beans for home consumption using large tracts of land which yielded minimal. But her light bulb moment came into 2009 when she heard about tissue culture bananas and decided to give it a try.

She has never looked back, a journey that has seen her become among pioneer farmers in value addition in Vihiga County, and ultimately getting national recognition through the Elgon Kenya National Farmers award. Margaret who grows over 200 stems of the high yielding, disease tolerant tissue culture bananas realized that there were limitless opportunities in banana production.

Together with 40 others they came together to form Hamisi Horticultural Development Group (HHDG) by processing bananas into flour and making a variety of products that include cakes, biscuits, crisps, doughnuts, bread, ugali and, chapatis. The group operates a banana processing plant at Serem market. It is a revolution that has transcended boundaries and won admiration beyond Vihiga County. “The aspect of value addition has been the best thing that has ever happened to our group. We are not only increasing the shelf life of our bananas, we are also realizing more income that we did when we were selling the bananas raw. Every single member of the group now has had their lives transformed and fortunes change with this value addition venture. We are glad we discovered it,” said Margaret who is also the group’s secretary.

The group buys at least 20 bunches of bananas from farmers every week to process the products and spend on average Sh9, 000 by buying a bunch at Sh450. Initiatives like food processing and value addition have been identified as the key components in helping the country win the war on food security, a thought Margaret agrees with.

“I have made a personal commitment to go with this project to its very end because the opportunities in this area are limitless. I know and strongly believe that if we can learn to add value to what we produce, whether tea, coffee, bananas or flowers we could not only be increasing the shelf life of these produce therefore stemming wastage, we could also earn more which is a motivating factor for our food producers,” said Margaret.

It is this dedication and self drive that saw her feted in the 2014 Elgon Kenya National Farmers Awards, a scheme that celebrate exemplary farmers and agricultural institutions driving innovation and growth in the Kenya’s agricultural sector. Amimo who emerged among winners in the women category further added the role of women in agriculture cannot be gainsaid.

“We have seen real impact and enthusiasm among our women members in embracing this value addition venture we are engaged in because women can see impressive results. Such innovations need to exist to spur more women to dedicate more attention to agriculture since they form the bulk of the food producers in this country,” she added.

Margaret is not afraid to dream. The voucher she received as a token of appreciation from Elgon Kenya during the awards has gone into securing an irrigation kit, as she hopes to now delve into horticulture farming and expand her source of income.