- Kimuri Mwangi
A group of 8 youth based in Nyeri County are raking millions from bananas under their G-Star Youth Group initiative.
According to the group's founding member, Charles Wachira, the light bulb moment to launch the game-changing unit in his home town came after he had enough of brokers exploiting the local market by buying bananas at a what he described as a 'throwaway price'.
"Some of the victims were our parents and we decided to do banana value addition to maximise the earnings from the fruit,” Wachira explained.
That was was how the seed was sown and Wachira and his team soon drew up a plan on how to add value to bananas.G-Star Group members package banana flour in their enterprise in Nyeri.
In 2015, they managed to get Ksh50,000 from the government's Uwezo Fund and Ksh100,000 from Youth Fund to set up a small plant but they soon realised that their factory would require more money.
However, the fund they got from the government was a loan which they had had to start repaying back. They decided to use the money for capacity building and learning about banana processing, as they kept searching for the capital required to set up their factory.
Their big break came in the same year after the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) came on board, trained and sponsored them for a course on food processing technology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT) where they were awarded certificates.
USAID also sponsored them for benchmarking tours where they visited banana processing factories to gain more knowledge. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) would later come on board and train them on Book Keeping and Marketing.
Wachira revealed that despite acquiring the knowledge and capacity to take the banana plan to the next level, capital was still a challenge and by 2016, some of the members had to focus on other projects just to make ends meet.
"We were commuting daily from our village Muthinga in Tetu Constituency and being jobless getting fare was also a challenge," he recounted.Charles Wachira pauses outside the groups' greenhouse.Edward Echwalu
The Upper Tana National Resource Management Project emerged to become the group's sponsor after it invited proposals from groups that had projects they wanted to be funded.
The project was funded by the National Government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Their proposal of Ksh1.8 million to build a banana value addition factory was approved but they had to contribute 10% which was Ksh180,000.
With just Ksh70,000 in cash, a member of the group surrendered a title deed to a parcel of land handed down through his family just to access the capital, and the rest is history.
Today, the group uses Facebook and Twitter to advertise their products and generate sales. They’re also using WhatsApp to reach out to existing customers and maintain communication for potential orders.
Many of their customers are understandably afraid to travel to pick up their orders, but G-Star has that covered, too: All products purchased through these platforms are sent to customers via independent courier services.
The process of making their in-demand flour involves; weighing and washing fresh bananas, peeling and slicing them, arranging the slices in the solar dryers, milling dried bananas, packaging the flour, and finally marketing it – all of this activity has kept about 15 young men and women busy, and offered them new prospects in life.
The group has been buying bananas directly from local farmers and paying them double the price they were previously selling at to brokers.
“It means a lot to me,” added Jerioth Mugura Wachira, a 29-year-old graduate in Information Technology who joined the group in 2016.
“My parents are selling bananas and now that they get cash, they don’t need to borrow money when they have a problem.”
In its first year of existence, the plant produced 1,400 kg of fortified banana flour, raking in well over Ksh2.3 million.Portrait of Jerioth, one of the G-Star Youth Group members.Edward Echwalu
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