By Prudence Minayo
Farmers around Chuka in Tharaka Nithi county mostly sell the bulk of their fruits to exploitative middlemen. It is here that Mercy Mwende saw an opportunity, utilized it and now owns a multi-million company. Today, she runs Sweet ‘N Dried Enterprises with her husband The company, located in Kamutiria Village in Chuka processes five tonnes of ripe mangoes.
Here is her business journey as told by WoK.
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Conceptualising the Idea
In 2006, Mercy Mwende was working as a fruit trader. She bought fruits in bulk from farmers and sold to retailers. She realised that during peak season a lot of fruits would go to waste as they were so many. Once the season was over, the fruits would hardly be in the market. It was during this time that the idea to start her own fruit processing plant was conceived. The idea was to dry fruits so as to minimise wastage while making money.
Starting the Company
In 2009 her dream became a reality and she registered Sweet ‘N Dried Enterprises. Together with her husband, Mageria Migwi, they invested Sh10,000 to build a makeshift dryer, buying and packaging raw materials.
In a 2017 interview with the Daily Nation, she revealed that the company was worth over Sh20 million. She sources mangoes from farmers across Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu. When they first started, they tried drying mangoes, avocados and bananas, however the avocados turned black and they never tried drying them again.
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The ripening chamber has a cemented floor. It is partitioned so as to store mangoes in the different stages of ripening. After they are ripened, they are weighed, washed and rinsed with running water. After this, the mangoes are peeled and sliced with proper hygiene being maintained. All the people working here have to ensure that their hairs are covered and they are disease free.
The slices of mango are then dried using solar power or electric power solar machine. It takes 12 hours to dry using solar and four hours using electricity. Once they are completely dry, they can last up to a year. 20 kilograms of mangoes produce one kilogram of flakes.
After they dry, the fruits are packed in labelled packets before being taken to the market. They supply supermarkets and also export some.
She attributed the growth of the company to determination, focus, and support from friends and well wishers such as Agri Non Governmental Organizations who equipped her with skills on various things including Global GAP Certification, Harvard Analysis and Critical Control Points.
She not only provides employment to over twenty people and works with at least 500 farmers.
Whenever, the mango season is over and they are vary rare, Mwende focuses on producing other things like pumpkin flour, carrot flour, dried ripe banana and raw banana flour.
Ultra-modern automated air drier machine
In 2018, Mwende benefited from an ultra modern automated air drier machine with a capacity of drying 300 kgs of fresh produce daily from USAID through Kenya Value Chains Enterprises project funded. Speaking during the commissioning, she said of the machine,
“We have been on a seven-year journey marked by numerous trials and errors. Markets have warmed up to our dried mangoes, bananas and vegetables. We have witnessed a boost in production as we can now source 100,000 kgs of fresh produce from farmers, up from 40,000 kgs last year. This means more market opportunities for our farmers, majority who have traditionally been forced to throw their produce due to post-harvest losses or sell them cheaply as they battle market glut,” Mercy Mwende said.
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