Women’s groups in Embu County find value addition in traditional foods

Harvest time: More Kenyans are now opting for health foods as seen in the farm. Photo: Robert Nyagah
Harvest time: More Kenyans are now opting for health foods as seen in the farm. Photo: Robert Nyagah

Women farmers in Embu County are a happy lot, thanks to the high demand for traditional crops in the country.

Through a cottage industry outfit, the local women’s group are set to start supplying supermarkets around the country with Kenya Bureau of Standards certified composite nutritional flour made from indigenous food crops.

Members of the group meet in homesteads in Mavuria area of Mbeere region in Embu County where they are always found busy sorting out various cereals on traditional containers placed on their laps before being taken to a posho mill run BY their colleague, Jane Muchungu.

One will find a section of the women in the group with small pieces of white looking substance in their containers which they use knives to break into smaller bits.

Another member is busy putting together various portions of the white pieces, different types of the already clean and sorted cereals in one container before she mixes them and finally hands the mixture over to Muchungu who pours the same into the posho mill.

Some 10 minutes later, there are containers of flour being packaged into small nylon bags and being sealed by use of a simple contraption.

Before filling the bags with the flour, another section of the women ensure that that a small piece of paper with details of the ingredients is placed inside the bags.

All these operations are being carried out in a neat and environmentally clean section of the homestead and after a few hours of work, the women share out the flour in the containers to be distributed for sale to various outlets.

The women, who are members of Mavuria Women’s Nutri-Business Group, also carry their personal share for domestic use at a fee before moving out to distribute consignments to customers or friends.

Ingredients for making the flour include millet, high vitamin sweet potatoes, sorghum, amaranth and cow-peas which are all locally grown food crops.

Of late, food experts, nutritionists and public health workers have been able to elevate the level of attraction and appreciation of local indigenous foods by promoting their nutritional value after basic non-scientific processing.

Indeed, after many years operating as an ordinary woman’s group, Mavuria Women Nutri-Business Group is today highly recognised cottage industrialists. This is after they started making flour from locally grown traditional food crops.

According to their chairperson, the food value-addition project came into being by coincidence when a visiting foreign scholar was on a study tour of the area to research on drought resistant crops.

The scholar noted how lowly the locals viewed their traditional food crops, despite their huge nutritional value, and encouraged them to start grinding a mixture of the various food crops to create highly nutritional composite flour.

Mavuria Women Nutri-Business Group has 53 members. The group had made great strides in marketing the composite flour sold under the trade mark Mamix.  They work closely with public health education officials to promote benefits of the flour.

Many families interviewed in Embu County say they have made the flour part of their regular diet.

Says Muchungu: “We realised that parents, who are infected with HIV-AIDs,  or have babies and family members who are affected highly appreciate the flour after months of use because the composite leads to good levels of health among those infected,” says Muchungu.

After taking a meal made of the traditional flour, the parents reported tremendous recovery levels on the baby and even offered to use the child as an example to show neighbours that the mixture was doing wonders on both young and old consumers.

Today, the product is very popular with families who are conscious of eating healthy foods, especially for their babies, the elderly and those infected with HIV being the main customers.

At the moment, members of the women’s group are the main buyers of the flour hence offering the group an opportunity to market their product locally and earn profits apart from promoting, marketing and selling of affordable healthy foods.

According to Muchungu, Mavuria Women Nutri-Business Group has adapted to modern technology by using a wet milling machine to prepare a popular mixture of watery dough locally known as “Kimere” which is used in preparing a popular traditional porridge used as a gift beverage in weddings and dowry dialogue forums.

A cross section of consumers interviewed, said the porridge made from the Mamix is easy to prepare and does not require a lot of time to cook.

“The flour is normally well grinded and hence takes less than 10 minutes to prepare unlike the mixture of the flour made through grinding stone which contains large granules requiring a longer period to cook,” says Joyce Wambogo, who has used the flour for the last one year.

Some women groups in Kiamuringa and Itabua area, also in Embu County, are also trying dried and grinded indigenous green vegetables which they mix with porridge and ugali flour, also made from traditional food crops.

“The excitement being caused by the value addition to local available flours has been so wide that one women’s group is in the initial stages of launching a cakes and bread cottage bakery whose products will be made from local cereals mixed with flour from whole wheat,” says Mary Wandiri, a member of Gatondo Women’s Group.

With more small-scale farmers learning the benefits of value addition, the national government and Embu County government have intensified campaigns to encourage residents to adopt farming in traditional food crops which do well across the county, and especially in the arid and semi-arid zones.

So far, the sky is the limit for members of the women’s group after they obtained certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards for the sale of the Mamix to national outlets.

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