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Kenya: Women in Kisii succeed with banana processing (Nairobi Star)

You can find bananas in almost every compound in Nyaura ward, in southwestern Kenya. Now a local women’s group is taking advantage of this abundance, and making a good living producing a variety of banana-based food products.

The Kenyuni Women’s Group has shown that bananas are not only for cooking or ripening, but are versatile and easily processed. The 20 women now make cakes, bread, biscuits, crisps, ugali flour, banana porridge and banana jam. They decided to start processing bananas for sale after they discovered that middlemen were exploiting them by giving them as little as 100 Kenyan shillings (just over one US dollar) per bunch of bananas.

Everline Onserio is the group leader. She says, “We have varieties which are only used for ripening and those [used] for baking. Each member has planted some [of each] in her piece of land to avoid a shortage.”

Mrs. Onserio explains that when the crop is ready, it is carefully harvested and cleaned with salt water. Then the bananas are transported on a motorbike to the groups’ mini-bakery, one kilometre away. At the bakery, they make bread, chapati and snacks from ripened bananas. The women sell these products to the public at affordable prices. Mrs. Onserio says, “Even though we face many challenges in our business, we are committed to making our families earn a living through our small income.”

The group leader says that most of their products are purchased by the locals who flock to their bakery from morning to evening. Their customers appreciate the quality of the products. She explains, “Our products are chemical-free. That is why we encourage people to buy and consume them.”

Residents praise the group, saying that their products are local and original compared to those sold in supermarkets. Many locals have changed their eating habits, and often buy the group’s products because they are nutritious.

Mrs. Onserio explains the value in keeping good records, “We keep records on daily transactions because we want to establish whether we are making progress or not. Initially when we didn’t have such records, it was difficult for us to know the position of our business.”

Veronica Nafula is the financial record keeper. The group sponsored her training in financial management. Mrs. Nafula explains one of the charts in their office, which shows that the group used to make nearly 300,000 shillings (about 3450 US dollars) annually. Now that they are adding value to the bananas, they rake in more than double that amount. To celebrate their progress, a group member has composed a Kiswahili poem which praises the banana as a plant that can help the community jump out of poverty.

Patrick Siro is deputy mayor of the town of Kisii, and a patron of the group. He is optimistic that the women will be successful in the long run. Mr. Siro said there is a need for more funding so that members can attain food security and improve their economic base. He expressed optimism that the ongoing construction of a banana factory near Kisii town will help the group and other banana growers.

At a time when Kenyans are suffering from inflation, Mrs. Onserio says that food security can be attained if growing bananas and adding value is embraced. “I think [the] time has come for Kenyans to change their eating habits and embrace ugali cooked from banana flour instead of maize flour.”

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