KENYA – A group of forward-thinking farmers in Embu has shifted gears to add value to bananas, contributing to increased market opportunities for their produce.

The focus is on producing whole green banana flour, a gluten-free product enriched with essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Led by Stephen Mutuanga, the Chairman of the Healthy Life Juices group based in Runyenjes, the farmers are on a mission to combat post-harvest losses.

Mutuanga highlights that by producing whole green banana flour, they aim to extend the shelf life from less than five days to an impressive eight months. This move not only benefits farmers but also provides consumers with a nutritious and long-lasting alternative.

From juices to flour

The Healthy Life Juices group, established in 2019 with support from the Uwezo Fund, initially ventured into juice production. However, faced with challenges like adverse weather conditions and inadequate storage facilities, the group decided to shift focus.

They diversified into adding value to various agricultural products, including cassava, groundnuts, pumpkin, green banana, and millet, by creating flour.

To kickstart this endeavor, the group received training from the Agricultural Technology Development Centre in Ruiru, Kiambu County. This training equipped them with the skills needed for value addition, ultimately reducing post-harvest losses and enhancing the shelf life of their products.

The process begins with purchasing green bananas from local farmers at Sh15 (U.S$0.095) per kilo. The bananas are then weighed, washed, and sliced to facilitate the drying process.

Using solar dryers, the sliced bananas undergo an eight-hour drying period, with the drying capacity determined by the size of the solar dryer. It’s a meticulous process that ensures the bananas achieve the optimal moisture content of 11%.

Health and safety standards

Mutuanga emphasizes the importance of maintaining high standards throughout the production process.

Trained by the Ministry of Health, the group adheres to Hazard Critical Control Points (HACCP) to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the final product.

Proper moisture levels are maintained to prevent contamination, particularly by aflatoxins, and the right packaging is employed to extend the shelf life of the flour to eight months.

While marketing remains a challenge, with current sales targeted at local markets and agricultural events, the group is determined to expand its reach.

Seeking support for larger solar dryers and the establishment of an aggregation center for farmers, the group aims to provide a robust market for agricultural produce, reports The Star.

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