Value addition earns group more income

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Whenever weather conditions allow, farmers plant vegetables in the hope of making profits at the market place. Unfortunately, most fresh vegetables are grown during the rainy reason thus fetch lower prices when sold during peak harvest time.

For a long time, farmers and scientists have tried to find ways to extend the shelf life of farm produce. In the month of April, we carried a feature on how rabbit farmers can capture a wider market and extend the shelf life of the highly perishable rabbit meat by making sausages. Vegetable farmers can also profit from value addition of vegetables by drying and selling vegetables throughout the year.

Group dries vegetables

Farmers and vegetable sellers from Lari Constituency in Kiambu County used to find it difficult to sell vegetables especially kales, even a day after harvest because the leaves get spoilt quickly. Fresh leafy kales are also bulky and can easily get damaged during transportation.

Kales and other vegetables such as spinach, carrots and even herbs can easily be dried and used at a later time. According to Ms. Jane Mugo of The Lari Pioneer Vegetable Processors Group, dried leaves can be soaked and then prepared in the same way as the fresh leaves. She says that success in drying vegetables starts with selection during harvest.

“When we go to the farm, we harvest leaves which are tender and green in colour. When we find the ones that look yellow we discard them. It doesn’t matter what size the leaves are, what really matters is that the kale leaf is of good quality,” says Ms. Mugo.

Sorting before drying

It is important not to pick all the green leaves so as to let the plant to grow further. A kale plant can keep growing up to one year depending on the variety and management. After one week, you can harvest again. After selection of the good quality leaves, unwanted material such as insects, dirt or any other foreign material are removed. Stalks are also removed from the leaves because dried stalks are hard to eat.

Washed in warm water

After removing the stalks from the kale leaves, the leaves are washed twice in clean water until they are completely clean and free of all foreign material.

Since kale leaves can be tough. It is best to tenderize them in lukewarm water before drying. Do not boil the water so as not to lose the nutrients from the kales. Says Ms. Mugo, “We add some salt to the water because salt helps maintain the green colour of the leaves. If you put the leaves in the warm water without salt, they will lose their colour.”

Once the salt has dissolved, the leaves are then placed in the lukewarm water, and stirred for about 5 minutes to ensure they become evenly soft. The leaves are then transferred to cold water after that to refresh them.

Solar drier used for drying

After refreshing the leaves, you can now place the kales on a raised platform of wiremesh to allow excess water to drain and then spread the leaves across a tray so that they can dry evenly. The trays are then placed in the solar drier.

Solar dryers come in various shapes and sizes, but all share the same principle: They capture the heat of the sun to dry the product faster. “We decided to use solar driers for our vegetables for hygiene purposes. The vegetables dry faster in a solar dryer and at the same time they are kept free of dust, dirt and bird droppings, “says Ms Mugo.

Packaged and stored for later marketing

The group members package the dried leaves into small polythene bags and seals them so that the leaves do not absorb moisture again. Then the packaged kale is put into an airtight container for extra protection and the container stored in a cool, dry room, away from direct sunlight. The dried kales can easily be stored for more than 6 months before sale.

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I was recently invited to a workshop where results of a study on factors influencing household adoption of renewable energy technologies in rural Kenya by the National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND). The study was commissioned with support from KIRDI and the Swedish Embassy in Kenya.