Youths fight poverty with sweet potato venture

Sweet potatoes on sale. Matungu Development Charity group  members can  extract up to 50 litres of juice from potatoes per day. FILE
Sweet potatoes on sale. Matungu Development Charity group members can extract up to 50 litres of juice from potatoes per day. FILE 

Undeterred by unemployment and poverty, a Kakamega County youth group has ventured into the extraction of juice from yellow potatoes.

The youths have been eking out a livelihood from unyielding soils, which can no longer support food production after being put under sugarcane farming for nearly three decades.

The Matungu Development Charity, a community based organisation, decided to shift from cultivating sugarcane to tending and adding value to sweet potatoes as a way of creating employment and fighting poverty.

Members of the group plant sweet potatoes on leased land. In Kakamega County, sweet potatoes supplement maize and beans as food in homes.

Another youth group in Ikolomani constituency has ventured into making soap from sweet potatoes. Mukomari Youth Bunge has started making soap from the yellow variety of sweet potatoes.

Matungu Development Charity’s secretary, Daniel Juma, said they were trained on how to extract juice from potatoes and sell it to generate an income for members who also refer to themselves as Munani Brothers Youth organisation. The juice is a refreshment.

The process of preparing the juice is simple. Group members start by boiling potatoes for nearly an hour.

“We then pound them into a mash and add some water and sugar, then sieve it to get the juice,” said Mr Juma. The group can extract up to 50 litres of juice per day, which is sold to villagers at Munami market. The group plans to buy equipment to speed up the process of extracting juice from sweet potatoes.

Mr Juma, 24, joined the group after completing his secondary school education two years ago. He plans to join college after saving enough money from the project.

Group members have been trained on how to handle the process hygienically and ensure that the product is safe for human consumption.

The group has exhibited their product at a number of Agricultural Society of Kenya shows.

“We have started in a small way but things are looking bright for us, we are determined to achieve our goal to financially empower individual members of the group,” said Mr Juma.

Members of the group were trained by nonprofit organisation Building Eastern Africa Community (Beacon), which sensitises communities in four counties on climate change and food security. The organisation trains communities in Kakamega, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and Kisumu counties.

Beacon project officer in charge of climate and food security, Bonventure Mukolwe, said the group was identified for training because its members are industrious and innovative.

He said that Western Kenya was among regions affected by adverse climate changes which have stifled agricultural production, leaving communities to wallow in abject poverty.

“Through our training programmes we have opened up new opportunities for rural communities to improve agricultural production by adopting new farming methods,” said Mr Mukolwe.

He said that their training programmes also promote farm enterprises. The clay soil in most farms in Munani village have turned white from years of sugarcane planting and can hardly support agricultural activities.

Stunted maize

Stunted maize plants bear testimony to the poor state of the soil.

“We came together as youths after our secondary education and decided to try out something new to avoid being engulfed in poverty,” said the group’s chairman, Mr Vincent Atitwa.

He said that the group identified planting of water melons as their first project after approaching a Christian non-profit organisation for financial support and training. The group received Sh120,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Njaa Marufuku programme.

The group planted water melons and indigenous vegetables on a one and a-half acre plot.

“We harvested three tonnes of water melons and made Sh60,000. After the first harvest we decided to increase acreage to five acres,” said Mr Atitwa.

But before they could harvest their next crop bad weather destroyed the entire harvest. But the group did not give up.

It identified a swamp and land near streams and rivers for planting sweet potato vines, which are transferred to drier farms, to boost production.