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Tomato deal gone sour sparks enriched flour making venture




Ms Pauline Mwangi (left), who is the director of Parmat Foods limited and her staff operating a miller that produces banana, cassava, sweet potatoes and arrowroot flour at her plant at Safari Park Crescent . PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION 

In 2012, when Pauline Mwangi quit her job as a creative coordinator at the Kenya Institute of Management where she had only worked for three years to venture into full-time farming, many thought she had lost her mind.

Some of her colleagues wondered why she was leaving a promising career to engage in a “dirty venture” which, according to them, did not match her age, intelligence and beauty.

But Mrs Mwangi had made a decision to be her own boss and an employer too through farming, despite having little understanding of the venture. And so she let the discouraging voices pass.

With a capital of Sh500,000, she acquired two greenhouses which she build at her residence at Safari Part Crescent Estate near Safari Park Hotel along Thika Highway and started growing capsicum and tomatoes. But when harvest time came she found herself grappling with lack of market since she had not explored avenues to sell her produce before joining the venture.

Buyers took advantage of her naivety to exploit her by buying the produce at a very low price and stealing from her through manipulation during weighing.

But the market issue, it would latter appear, was just the beginning of her woes.

One day, while hunting for a market for her produce, Mrs Mwangi received a call from one of her farmhands informing her that the two greenhouses had collapsed and destroyed all the crops.

This presented yet another challenge, but she was not going to be daunted by frustrations and losses.

Mrs Mwangi continued with the venture, this time through open farming on an eighth of an acre.

With the little returns she was getting Mrs Mwangi managed to rehabilitate the greenhouses and resumed tomato farming which she said appeared lucrative.

But the worst was yet to come.

Sometime in 2015, after tending her tomatoes for three months, she found a middleman who promised to buy her harvest in bulk at a good price.

“We agreed that I harvest the tomatoes in the evening and he would collect them the following morning, which I did. But he did not honour his part of the bargain. To make matters worse, he switched off his phone. This was my lowest moments because it translated to a huge lose since I was not able to find buyers to buy all the produce which I had already packed,” Mrs Mwangi said.

Ironically, the lesson from the loss was her turning point, one which elevated her from being a simple farmer to a processor of farm produce.

“I realised that if I added value to my product I would not suffer huge losses,” she said.

This gave her a business idea and without delay she founded Pamat Foods Ltd, an enterprise which processes farm produce, using capital of about Sh2 million.

To ensure that she did not make a wrong investment, Mrs Mwangi invested in research.

She settled on processing bananas, amaranth, cassava, arrow roots and sweet potato flour. Within a short time she had assembled a miller and develop structures to facilitate processing.

Mrs Mwangi’s sources green bananas, amaranth, cassava, arrow roots and sweet potatoes from farmers in Kiambu, Murang’a and other counties.

She mills and mixes them to produce porridge flour and baking supplements which she sells to retail shops.

The process entails cutting the produces into small pieces, drying them for two to three days before milling them into flour under the Pamat brand.

The products include banana, cassava, arrowroot, amaranth and sweet potato flour as well as different blends of the produce.

Th flour is packed in 250 grams, half a kilo and one kilo packs which she sells at between Sh100 and Sh150 each.

The greenhouses, which she previously used to farm tomatoes, now serves as a drier of her raw materials.

She has eight workers whose role is to sort and clean the produce once they are delivered from farms, processing, milling and packing, while she does marketing and deliveries.

To ensure a steady flow of raw materials, Ms Mwangi set up a demonstration farm where she trains small scale farmers on how to achieve high yields in collaboration with organisations like Groots Kenya.

And to ensure that her business is well managed, Mrs Mwangi undergoes training by different organisations to learn on the best business practices including marketing, policy making, human resource management and record keeping. One of the training sessions, she said, was organised by Kenya Agribusiness and Agro-industry Alliance (KAAA) under the Switch African Green initiative.

Her efforts were recognised a month ago when her firm was voted the best micro and small medium enterprise in the adoption of sustainable, consumption and production practises.

The award was sponsored by the European Union, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Office for Project Services and KAAA.

There is a huge market for her products which are classified as healthy foods, she said, adding that she plans to expand her firm.

However, she lamented that the cost of production and power are a major threat to the growth of her firm and the manufacturing sector in general.