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Kenya: Ukambani women reaping profits by processing fruits

Between the months of February and March every year, it was the mango season in Kenya’s Eastern Province commonly called Ukambani when the products were is in plenty.

    Most market centers were colored yellow and red with the juicy ripe fruits.

    After the mango season came yet another Guava season, a fruit which grows wildly in the semi-arid area.

    During the same time, residents harvested Tamarindus, also another edible wild fruit commonly known as Mukwaju.

Mary Mutua, a citrus fruit dealer in Kitui town which was a four-drive from Nairobi city, sold four mangoes at 10 shillings (0. 1 U.S. dollar) to traders from Thika, Meru and Nyeri districts, areas with little fruit farms.

The traders then in turn sold the fruits at 20 shillings (less than 0.25 US dollar) a piece.

    With limited resources and low education standards, residents in arid and semi-arid lands have been shoved aside by people from other regions, pushing them to the periphery of economic development.

To reverse the trend, Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP), in collaboration with the European Union, has come up with a project to initiate value addition to products seen to have low value in the area.

The initiative being carried out in four districts from this region was meant to empower the community to maximize profits from the fruits by processing them.

    With the support from ALRMP, women have taken the lead and embraced value addition to maximize profit margins on the many available resources that can be easily tapped from the region.

When the program was started, the fruit growers gained confidence that mangoes and paw paws which used to rot in farms would not go to waste again as the innovation had an alternative market.

Weary of making losses, a local NGO, Kithethesyo Women Self Help Group in Migwani division embarked on a search for a better way of maximizing their profits.

After getting intensive training, 40 members decided that value addition was the best way to go.

All credit went to ALRMP which advanced the group 315,000 shillings (4,200 US dollars) to buy a fruit processor, making a turning point to the members who have lived to maximize the new invention to improve their levels of income.

    "The machine can squeeze 100 liters of juice from mangoes and paw paw jam in less than an hour", said the group chairlady Phoebe Kasee.

She explained that the juice was then blended with preservatives, hot water and citric acid to produce a rich and tantalizing natural juice that can compete with other products in the market.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was when the mango juice was processed while Thursday, Friday and Saturdays were the days for processing pawpaw jam.

    "The shelve life of mango juice is 18 months while that of the paw paw jam is 36 months," said Kasee, adding the members have greatly improved their income as mango juice goes at 80 shillings (one dollar) per litre while the same quantity of pawpaw jam sells at between 120-150 shillings (between one and two dollars).

    "I personally have been able to built a decent house and educate my children from the juice products", said Kasee, asserting that in the past it was difficult for one to get 2,000 shillings (about 30 dollars) from their harvest of mango and pawpaw.

Another women group Wonawiki Self Help Group also strived to add value to traditional foods from traditional food crops.

The group made not only nutritious but also high lucrative cakes from millet, sweet potatoes and a rice meal from sorghum and green grams.

It also made caffeine-free tea from roasted sorghum.

The group treasurer Mary Kimanzi said a kilogram of sorghum that before retailed at 50 shillings (one dollar) during harvest can now fetch four times after the value addition.

    "The value addition initiative has empowered women to produce, package and sell the products anytime, ensuring a sustained food security in the area," said the area’s District Drought Management Officer Francis Koma.


Publication date: 5/3/2010


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