For 13 years, Afros Ochieng’ Otieno, 31, made a living from doing menial jobs such as weeding farms, earning between Sh150 and Sh200 daily.
These earnings were too low to meet all his needs and he decided to look for an alternative means of making an income. This is when he decided to venture into adding value into banana. This has proved a right decision for him as he and members of the group he formed are now raking in an average of Sh3,000 daily.
They make the money by making banana flour and other related products.
“Together with nine friends who are also small-scale banana farmers, we started a self-help group called Misire Afmago. Each of us contributed Sh100 that we used to buy one bunch of bananas for Sh200, three two-kilo packets of wheat flour at Sh120 each, one kilo of sugar at Sh100, yeast at Sh80 and we used Sh60 to buy packaging material,” Mr Otieno said.
“The remaining Sh200 we saved. We do not have employees as the 10 of us work full time in the bakery.” The group received a grinding machine from World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organisation. The machine helps them grind the bananas into fine flour.
They also got a baking oven called Solar Five from GoSol Company, a solar energy company.
In its first day of operations, the group produced eight kilos of flour, which they used to bake 168 buns, which sold out.
They reinvested the money and each contributed an additional Sh50 to buy more ingredients for the business. To promote members’ welfare, the group led by Mr Otieno as the chairman buys bananas from members at between Sh200 and Sh500 a bunch depending on the size.
“After buying the bananas, we peel them and dry both the peel and flesh in the sun for two to three days depending on the weather conditions. After drying, it is ground into fine flour using the grinding machine,” says Mr Otieno.
In a day, they make eight to 12kg of flour. The flour is then mixed with wheat flour and then used to make bread, buns and scones. The buns are old at Sh20 for three pieces but they have a special discount for primary and secondary school, selling them a bun at Sh5.
Their products are sold in local primary and secondary schools within Nyamusi area, Nyamira County where they operate. They also supply shops within the county. The residents buy directly from the group’s bakery.
“A two-kilogramme packet of banana flour produces up to seven, 400g pieces of bread, or 60 buns or 60 scones. The demand for buns and scones is high within Nyamusi and as such we make more buns and scones in a day compared to bread,” he says.
On a good day they sell more than five crates of bread at Sh40 per piece translating to Sh4,800, says Otieno.
The group makes approximately Sh3,000 in profit every day. From this each member is given Sh100 on top of the earnings they get from selling their bananas. The rest is put in a savings account which they share equally at the end of the year.
Despite his achievements in the value addition market, Mr Otieno, does not have an education background to write home about. He was forced to drop out of school in Form Two at Nyamusi Boys Secondary School due to a lack of school fees in 2001.
From 2001 to 2006, he worked as a casual labourer in Nairobi earning Sh100 daily mixing concrete and cement at construction sites.
In August 2006, he got frustrated by the low income and decided to go back home where he started working on his neighbours’ farms weeding crops such as maize and bananas, a job that earned him between Sh150 to Sh200 a day. This was still not enough to make ends meet and so in July 2014, he started the banana enterprise.
The county is one of the banana growing regions in Kenya. Others are Meru, Kisii, Tharaka Nithi, Kakamega, Murang’a, Embu, Kirinyaga, Bungoma and Kericho.Kenya produces approximately 1.4m tonnes of bananas annually. 86 per cent of this is sold commercially with the rest for the farmers’ consumption, according to USAid.
Besides making flour from bananas, Mr Otieno converts the peels into a fine medicinal powder that can be used to treat ulcers.