By Prudence Minayo
Catherine Otaga is a Busia based businesswoman who an ingenious way of making money from sweet potatoes. Through this business, she has been able to have a steady income, educate her seven children and even hire ten 14 workers. She found customers for her sweet potato products in various stores and companies across Busia and Nairobi.
The businesswoman hopes to start a potato processing plant and to see Busia grow into a hub for sweet potato and cassava manufacturing.
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This is her story as told by WoK.
In 2014, she was selling potatoes in Busia market and earning very little from the venture. She would put in a lot of effort and then sell the potatoes to only a few people making minimal profits.
Her fortunes changed when she went for a value addition workshop by Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (Kalro).
Being a member of Tanga Kona Commercial Village, a group in Busia, they learnt about sweet potatoes and how to boost vines production. They also learnt how to add value addition to sweet potatoes by making snacks including biscuits and cakes.
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After the training, she started the journey of translating the knowledge into a viable business.
She began by purchasing sweet potato vines at a reputable seller. She planted orange fleshed sweet potato and cassava. The plants did well and within six months, it was harvest time.
After harvesting the sweet potatoes, she washes them to remove impurities, peels and then allows them to dry. Once they are dried, she grinds them to make flour which is even more expensive than potatoes.
She used to sell 1 kilogram of raw sweet potatoes for Ksh25 but after processing it into flour, it would increase to more than double this amount. Her produce also increased from 40 bags an acre to 80 bags.
In the beginning, she would sell the flour to neighbours and family before more and more people began buying it.
Realizing that the flour was earning her a good amount, she started making snacks. She made use of her savings to expand her business by purchasing machines needed for peeling, crushing and drying the tubers. She also bought equipment for making cookies, crackles, cakes, bread, chapati, and crisps.
“I bought the machine at Sh6,500 from jua kali artisans. I also bought a special drier for the crisps. It also comes with a motorized machine for slicing them into smaller sizes,” she said during a March 2021 interview with The Standard.
In order to preserve the Vitamin C in potatoes, she puts the solar drier machine in a shade. This also prevents contamination.
To make her snacks delicious, she has to use sweet potatoes of high quality. Hence, she uses those from her farm and from trusted farmers.
She packs the crackles in different packets weighing between 25 grams to 150 grams which go for Ksh10 and Ksh100 respectively,. She told the Standard that on a good day, she would make between Sh6,000 to Sh8,000 from the sale of cookies.
She was certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) , before she began selling her produce. They visited her place then her products were approved for mass supply.
In Nairobi and other cities, she sells her products to retail stores and food industries. In her home county, she sells to supermarkets, schools, and agricultural shows and events.
Most of her clients come from referrals, workshops, and seminars. She also sells the raw products to food processing factories.
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