A childhood love for sugarcane for Charles Odira has metamorphosed into a juice-making enterprise that is earning him five times more than he earned selling the cane.
His passion for anything sugarcane was inspired by his father who used cane juice to make jaggery commonly known as sukari nguru. Delving into the trade after finishing school, Odira has never looked back.
He initially sold sugarcane but a visit to Mombasa International Trade Fair changed his fortunes. He stumbled upon an old friend who worked at the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation who was showcasing sugar-crashing machines. He decided to save and buy the machine.
He started processing peanuts into butter and flour. He also fabricated machines and improved their performance. The business picked up well, which inspired him to venture into extracting sugarcane juice.
“It’s always hot in Kisumu and people inevitably cool down with a cold drink. Many prefer sugarcane juice to other beverages,” he said.
After harvesting, he washes the cane and peels and then passes it through an extractor that crushes and spins it to remove the juice, which is then mixed with a little water and flavors.
A half-meter length cane can produce up to two litres of raw cane juice, which can be refrigerated for storage, as with other juices. Also, apart from the flavours, cane juice requires no additives or preservatives. Mr Odira sells a cup of the juice at Sh50. He also mixes the juice with ginger and lime to enhance its taste and medicinal properties, depending on a client’s needs.
He sells a 250ml sachet of the juice at Sh10, making it one of the most affordable healthy beverages in the market.
“People do not consume some products because they are unaware of their health benefits. I am hopeful that this is going to be a good business line for me,” he said.
The juice is cheaper in Kisumu, compared to other Kenyan towns, due to the abundance of sugarcane in the area. A one-meter piece of sugarcane can produce up to four litres of juice, which requires no additives or preservatives and can be refrigerated.
Mr. Odira said that he participates in various trade fairs through partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and non-governmental organisations keen on educating people on the benefits of sugarcane juice.
The drink is nutritious and rich in minerals such as calcium and iron. Chewing sugarcane is common in Kisumu both as a substitute for candy and to quench thirst.
It’s also said to have an abundance of healthy properties. The juice cleans kidneys and is a good remedy for sore throat and flu. Diabetics can enjoy it without being concerned about soaring sugar levels. However, those with type II diabetes should avoid too much of the juice. It also assists with constipation because of its high potassium content. It lowers high body temperatures during fevers. Regular intake of sugarcane juice helps fight against prostate and breast cancer.
The juice re-hydrates the body fatigued from heat and physical activity. It’s also known to boost performance in athletes and manual labourers. Sugarcane juice also helps in speedy recovery from jaundice. Odira’s venture comes at a time when the government has embraced sugar cane value addition to assist farmers in areas without sugar mills to grow the cane for its juice rather than sugar.
The Kenya Sugar Research Foundation (Kesref), has already developed a machine that extracts juice from sugarcane just like it happens in mangoes and other fruits.
Sugar cane juice according to experts can be mixed with flavours from different substances to make healthy drinks.