Afros Ochieng Otieno dropped out of school in form two at Nyamusi Boys school due to lack of school fees in 2001 and was forced to do casual jobs such as weeding people’s farms for thirteen years.
In July 2014, however, he and nine other friends started a self-help group to add value to bananas, a venture that is earning him Sh3,000 in profits daily.
The group converts banana fingers into flour for baking bread, cakes ansd dough nuts.
Besides, Ochieng converts banana peels which are usually dumped as waste into a fine medicinal powder that can be used to treat ulcers.
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Ochieng’s business is based in Nyamusi division, Nyamira. The county is one of the banana growing regions in Kenya besides Meru, Kisii, Tharaka Nithi, Kakamega, Murang’a, Embu, Kirinyaga, Bungoma and Kericho.
From 2001 to 2006, Ochieng worked as a casual laborer in Nairobi earning Sh100 daily mixing concrete and cement at construction sites in various regions within the city.
In August 2006, he was frustrated at doing the manual jobs due to low income and decided to go back home where he started working on his neighbors’ farms weeding crops such as maize and bananas, a venture that earned him between Sh150 to Sh200 per day.
In July 2014, Ochieng and nine of his friends formed Misire Afmago Self Help Group with each member contributing Sh100 as initial capital investment that went towards purchasing of banana bunches.
The group was lucky to receive a grinding machine from World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization to help them grind the bananas into fine flour.
To promote members’ welfare, the group led by Ochieng as the chair, buys bananas from members at between Sh200 to Sh500 per bunch depending on the size.
“After buying of bananas, we usually peel them and dry them in the sun for two to three days depending on the weather conditions,” said Ochieng.
After drying, it is grinded into fine flour using the grinding machine.
The banana flour is then mixed with wheat flour at the rate of 20 to 80 per cent then added with water, baking sugar, yeast, salt and softening fat and used to make bread, buns and scones.
Afros Ochieng with a banana bread. Photo: Courtesy
“A two kilogram packet of banana flour for instance produces up to seven, 400g breads which is an equivalent of 60 buns or 60 scones,” said Ochieng.
Ochieng says the demand for buns and scones is high within Nyamusi and as such they make more buns and scones in a day compared to bread.
The group depends on orders made by shops and retailers within Nyamusi and towns such as Kisii.
On a good day they sell more than five crates of bread at Sh40 per piece translating to Sh4800.
They make up to 600 buns and scones in a day earning which they sell at Sh20 for every three pieces. They however, charge less for primary and secondary school students with each bun selling at five shillings.
The group’s entry into the powder business from banana peels was informed by multiple online researches showing that it prevents drug induced ulcers.
According to Greenmedinfo, an online medical journal, the powder controls stomach lining corrosion resulting from asprin, indomethacin, phenylbutazone, cysteamine, histamine, among other drugs. The potassium element in the powder strengthens corrosion resistance of the stomach mucous layer besides promoting healing by inducing cellular growth in affected areas.
Peels from a 30 kg banana can give five to six kilos of the dry powder. One kilo of the powder fetches Sh300 at wholesale.
The same banana, if sold for plantain or ripe fruits, earns between Sh250 and Sh500 in Kisii and Nyamira and about Sh500 in cities such as Nairobi.
The only additive to the powder is sodium sulphate, which helps in maintaining the green power or white flour colors.
“It takes one to two days to dry the peels. The process reduces the moisture content to less than 10 per cent. Low moisture content limits growth of poisonous moulds and increases the shelf-life of the two products,” he said.
Converting the 30 kilos of raw banana into flour gives four kilos, which fetch Sh900 when sold raw.
Banana peels have about 20 per cent vitamin B-6, which helps the body in converting food into energy, therefore lowering diabetes risks.
Tuskys Supermarket is one of the outlets selling the powder.
“To Kisii town alone, we supply between 75 kilos and 100 kilos per week,” said Ochieng.