In Ndaragua, a few kilometres from the Nyeri-Nakuru highway, a group of women have found prosperity in potato value addition. Thanks to the potato crisps, which they produce, today, each member has a dairy cow, electricity connection at home and water harvesting projects.
Most importantly, they can pay their children’s fees to any level of education without asking for bursaries or fundraising. As one approaches their premises one is treated to sounds of traditional and religious songs.
Inside, there are women in the compound working in an industrious sequence punctuated by songs. Their leader, Ms Kaari Kagondu, and four other women are busy cleaning, peeling and slicing Irish potatoes.
A few metres away, three other women are having some fun, engaging in storytelling, as they slice potatoes. Elsewhere in the compound, Ms Catherine Muthoni, is seated with a white towel and is squeezing the sliced potatoes to rid them of excess water.
She then hands them over to the next person in the line. The potatoes are then deep-fried and drained of oil on a mesh. At the far end, one is packing the now tantalizing paperweight crisps. “The venture has created a reliable market for our potatoes. The group gives priority to members before buying tubers from other farmers,” says Ms Muthoni.
The group also produces starch, which is a byproduct of crisps, selling it at Ksh500 a kilo. “The demand for pure starch is very high. Our target markets are hotels,” says Ms Kaari, the Vision Women Self-Help group chairperson.
Starch is an odourless tasteless white substance, occurring widely in plant tissues and obtained chiefly from cereals and potatoes. The cells of the root tubers of the potato plant contain starch grains (leucoplasts), which are released from the cells when potatoes are crushed. The starch is then washed out and dried to powder.
Other than for its nutritional value, starch powder or spray is also used to stiffen fabric or clothing before ironing.
The starch the group processes is the white substance left at the bottom of the bucket after cleaning the potatoes. They then dry it at room temperature, and sell it to hotels.
“We get a kilo of starch flour from 18 kilos of peeled potato. The most important thing is to ensure that you use the potato variety recommended for making crisps, and the potatoes must be fully mature,” the chairperson says From the 18 kilos of potatoes, a group member will earn between Ks1,250 and Ksh1,500 from crisps.
A similar bucket of raw Irish potatoes weighing 18kg sells between Ksh100 and Ksh200. During the drought early this year, the price hit to a record Ksh1,000. They make four kilos of rounded crisps and four kilos of stick crisps from 18 kilos of potatoes, which also gives them 200 grammes of starch.
In a day, the group uses six buckets (18 kilos each) of raw potato, translating to 48 kilos of both round and stick crisps, which earning Ksh32,000,
READ FULL STORY INSIDE ISSUE 37 OF SMART FARMER MAGAZINE