The Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill that legalises traditional liquor is promising farmers extra income from the sale of food crops as raw materials for processing alcohol.
Farmers can be outgrowers for alcohol manufacturers who use food crops as malting agents or if the farmer(s) choose to invest individually or as a group in manufacture and packaging of alcohol.
The new law requires that all alcoholic drinks be well packaged in glass bottles, meaning farmers in groups or co-operatives must also invest in or outsource packaging machines and services.
A range of food crops and fruits are suitable raw materials for processing into alcohol, including maize, bananas, pawpaw, pineapples, mangoes, sugarcane, sorghum, and millet, among others that are readily available in Kenya.
Some like mangoes, whose post-harvest loss due to oversupply in the market and decay is estimated to be over 60 per cent, could easily become cash-cows for farmers.
Mr Willis Owino, a researcher involved in mango growing and processing at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said the main challenge with mango farming was that the crop matures at once across the country and has one season.
“When it is harvested and gets into the market, there is oversupply and prices crumble.”
Yet farmers can be empowered to invest in locally made mango processing, fermenting, filtering and packaging machines that will convert the fruit into wine, a brandy or a larger beer.
In Ghana for example, a substantial number of churches use wine made from cashew nuts, processed by farmers groups in the villages.
The farmers also make other forms of alcohol using the nuts, among other products.
Ms Penina Okenye, a banana farmer in Kisii has been making bananas crisps and selling them to local shops.
She cannot, however, get a value added certificate to enable her sell to supermarkets because her annual sales have not reached five million shillings.
She said processing bananas into alcohol could lead to faster growth of village-based industries because alcohol is a faster moving product.
“This is an opportunity to take loans and put up distilleries. We need to ensure co-operatives that can help us to achieve this are working,” she said.
Mr Stanley Mwangi, the Value Chain Coordinator for non-profit group Farm Concern International that is helping develop villages that process cassava for livestock feed stock manufacturers across East Africa said alcohol manufacturing was a new opportunity for small holder farmers.
“As an organisation, we may not advice our farmers to go this way now but may be in later phases of the project. Farmers need to be advised well to venture into alcohol manufacturing,” he said.
Using foods like cereals, tubers and fruits to manufacture alcohol will not be an entirely new concept in Kenya.
For large scale manufacture, the East Africa Breweries is now using sorghum as the main raw material for the manufacture of its sorghum brand.
Sorghum has traditionally been used to make pulp (ugali) and porridge in Kenyan homes.
The company contracted outgrowers and is already buying from several parts of Eastern Province.
“This new sorghum growing initiative in semi-arid areas is expected to impact the livelihood of over 25,000 farmers by providing an extra source of income to benefit the communities in which the sorghum is grown,” Mr Lawrence Maina, the Agriculture Manager at EA Malting Limited said earlier.