A writer once opined that the very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at.
This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. And this is what this young and effervescent African has done with good old bananas.
Value addition is what Eric Muthomi, founder of Stawi Foods and Fruits, contributed to the Kenyan food chain supply during a critical period when the crop which served as a food buffer in times of scarcity between cereal harvests and was also used to avoid famine became endangered.
Bananas were not available all year round; they became very cheap during harvest time and expensive in the dry season and so thousands of Kenyan small holder banana farmers remained poor and discouraged as a result of huge wastes and middlemen who profiteered at their expense because of the low market prices caused by an oversupply of bananas to the market during harvest time.
To create sustainable growth, banana farmers in Meru, one of the largest banana producing regions in Kenya, needed buyers willing to purchase their produce at reasonable prices.
From an early age, Eric Muthomi, a 27-year old graduate of law from the Catholic University of East Africa determined to start his own business after school in 2010. He had noticed the problems most banana farmers were facing in Meru, his hometown in Central Kenya. He decided to start up a company that would buy raw bananas from local farmers at guaranteed prices, process them into banana flour and package them for sale in the market. This is the idea that formed his company, Stawi Foods.
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.”
By introducing a major buying culture change, Eric who has also done short courses in enterprise management at United States International University and banana processing training at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, single-handedly turned the tables against middlemen who only served their own interests and in just three years, he built a successful business from solving the banana problem in Meru, his Kenyan hometown. He says;
“I am happy when farmers come up to me and thank me for getting them a market for their product. It is such a satisfying feeling.”
Stawi Foods (stawi means ‘prosperity’ in Swahili) which started in 2011 has indeed improved the lives of thousands of banana farmers by providing them with sure income. Eric’s idea now allows smallholder banana farmers in Kenya to earn 30 percent more on their bananas than they would have made if they sold it in the local markets. It has also helped to increase the shelf life of bananas which would have rot and wasted if they are not sold soon after harvest.
In addition, selling their banana harvests to a guaranteed buyer (Stawi Foods) protects them from the low and fluctuating prices of banana in times of harvest and scarcity. This is helping many young people to remain gainfully employed as banana farmers.
The banana flour, which is made from processed green bananas, is gluten free, nutritious and can be used to make Kenya’s staple dish ugali and baby food, porridge, mashed food, baked foods and soups. This versatile branded product which is sold as ‘Stawi Natural Banana Flour’ is distributed in several major supermarkets across Kenya.
Since he put this smart idea to action in 2011, Eric Muthomi has attracted a lot of local and international attention. In the same year he started Stawi Foods, Eric won the top prize in the 2011 Nature Challenge Africa competition sponsored by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Kenya in partnership with NETFUND which encourages businesses on sustainable use of natural resources in Africa.
In 2012, he won a Business Plan Competition organized by Kenya’s Ministry of Industrialization which looks out for innovative business ideas every year. Eric beat over 3,000 other contestants who own young and startup manufacturing businesses to become the 2012 winner.
He also won another award for his brilliant business idea in the Chase Bank Enablis ILO Business Launch Pad Competition in the Agribusiness Agro-processing category. This award rewards the most exciting and promising business plan among Kenyan entrepreneurs. He was also listed by Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs. With all this attention, Eric believes it will not be long before he penetrates the East African regional market which will act as his stepping stone into international markets like Europe and North America.
At just 25 years old, fresh out of university and with no money to start a business in an area outside his course of study, Eric Muthomi went waltzing on the world’s stage with his simple business idea. Remember the saying,
If you can conceive it, then you can achieve it?
That’s exactly what Eric has done.