For one 26-year-old law graduate, who thought farmers “deserved better” than gluts of unsold bananas, the answer has been an award-winning venture producing outstandingly nutritious banana flour under the brand name Stawi. The prosperity ushered in by Eric Muthomi's flour plant has impacted now hundreds of Meru farmers by providing a ready market for their bananas.
A graduate from Catholic University of East Africa, Eric saw a marketing opportunity when Meru banana farmers were buffeted by a glut. “It has been the same cycle over and over. Farmers would invest heavily in banana farming, only to end up disappointed by an oversupply in the market or poor pay by middlemen. I thought farmers deserved better,” said Eric, who also hails from Meru.
The idea of Stawi Foods was to enter into contracts with organised farmer groups to buy bananas and process them into banana flour and package them ready for the market. The multipurpose banana flour, branded as Stawi Natural Banana Flour, is commonly used to make baby food, porridge, pasta, food fortification and pizza bases.
Besides the six permanent staff now employed in sales, quality control, accounting and store keeping, the company also has another 20 casual employees, mostly women and youth, to assist in the laborious banana peeling process.
“I am a young entrepreneur with a passion of building a great food enterprise that will add value to society in terms of nutritional value for consumers of our products and economic prosperity to our employees, farmers and shareholders,” said Eric.
Swahili for 'prosperity', Stawi's business philosophy has been to create wins on three fronts: by encouraging healthy eating, as bananas emerge as one of the most nutritious foods globally, by delivering prosperity to the banana farmers, who now have a guaranteed market for their produce, and to achieve prosperity for the business itself. “We are motivated by a desire to create something great that will last beyond it's founders and create lasting impact on society.”
The company is still in its infancy, having only been registered in early 2011, and is still strategizing on how to expand the market for its flour, but within a year of opening it had won a row of national and international accolades. This year, the young agripreneur was feted by the Ministry of Industrialisation through its Jitihada business plan competition that targets innovative business ideas that can be nurtured for growth. He beat 3,439 other participants from young and upcoming manufacturing firms across the country to emerge the 2012 overall winner.
Last year, Stawi Foods won top prize in the 2011 Nature Challenge Africa competition, an initiative sponsored by Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Kenya in partnership with NETFUND that boosts businesses on sustainable use of natural resources in Africa. The same year saw the company win in the Chase Bank Enablis ILO Business Launch Pad competition in the Agribusiness Agro-processing category. The competition rewards the most exciting and promising business plan among Kenyan entepreurs.
Despite the high cost of doing business in Kenya, the bedrock of Eric's success has been his zeal to lift farmers fortunes while introducing unique products in the market. “The country needs young people to take up agriculture and come in with new ideas that will spur growth in the sector and contribute towards food security. If the youth do not do this, a huge gap will be exist that might be filled by the Chinese,” sayid the soft spoken Eric, who draws inspiration from successful business leaders Dr. James Mwangi, Vimal Shah and Manu Chandaria.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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