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It’s all bananas

Banana stems are usually reserved for animals, but a company in Kirinyaga is adding value to the product by transforming it into goods for sale

Banana stems have never been considered good for anything other than cow feed. Icoseed a registered non governmental organisation (NGO) in Kenya since 2008 whose main aim is to promote agriculture in Kirinyaga County and Kenya in general by training, setting up farm demos, organising field days, tours, exhibitions and competitions, has found a way to put them into better use.

The organisation has now morphed into Icoseed Enterprises, a company that is adding value to banana stems to make strong and durable handbags, mats, wall hangings and wine bags for both local and international market.

The company was established after Patrick Gitari, Icoseed Managing Director and Gideon Mugo Makanga, the organisation’s chairman visited India in 2013 and discovered how to add value to banana stems.

Armed with Sh380,000, the duo imported a banana fiber extractor and they trained 30 young men and women on how to make the products, but only seven agreed to work with them. “At first there was shortage of the raw material since the area doesn’t have many farmers to sustain the project.

This was a challenge, we needed to solve before commercialising the project because we were forced to outsource raw material from neighbouring counties,” said Patrick. Lady Luck knocked on their door the same year when the national government gave them Sh2 million under Njaa Marufuku Kenya programme to promote banana farming in Kirinyaga, encouraging more farmers to start growing bananas.

“This is when we decided to fully concentrate and commercialise the project because of availability of raw material and in 2014 we made our first products, which were well received in the market,” said Gitari.

A year later the project was transforming the area and they filled to be recognised as a green innovation by the National Environment Trust Fund (NetFund). Upon evaluation the enterprise, which was by then registered as a business name by the registrar of societies was recognised as the best green innovation in Kenya and received green innovation award 2016.

This year they were recognised by Switch Africa Green Seed Award as the best green innovation in Africa. “Apart from the fact that our innovation is under incubation by NetFund, we are undergoing intensive capacity building by Switch Africa Green SEED project in order to upscale the business,” he added.

They have also received four more banana fibre extractors, a comb and a twinning machine and two electric sewing machines from Netfund to mechanise the whole process, which is currently being done manually.

They have bought four extra handlooms in readiness for increased production capacity. Currently, their production capacity is 500 products per month and they hope to increase to 2,000 products once the machines become fully operational. Their plan is to start producing sanitary towels using banana fibre and also focus on the sale of fibre.

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