Catherine Otaga, a farmer based in Busia, has managed to turn her sweet potato farming into a successful business venture. This has enabled her to earn a steady income, educate her seven children and hire ten workers aged 14 years.
Initially, Catherine used to sell raw sweet potatoes in the Busia market, but the venture was not profitable as she only sold to a few people, earning minimal profits. However, in 2014, her fortunes changed when she attended a value addition workshop organized by the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (Kalro). The workshop, which was attended by her group, Tanga Kona Commercial Village, focused on sweet potatoes and how to boost vine production. Additionally, they learned how to add value to sweet potatoes by making snacks like biscuits and cakes.
After the training, Catherine decided to turn the knowledge she had acquired into a viable business. She began by purchasing sweet potato vines from a reputable seller, planting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and cassava. Six months later, she harvested the sweet potatoes, washed them to remove impurities, peeled them, and allowed them to dry. Once the potatoes were dry, she ground them to make flour, which she sold at a higher price than raw sweet potatoes. Catherine was able to sell one kilogram of raw sweet potatoes for Sh25 but after processing it into flour, it would increase to more than double this amount. Moreover, her produce increased from 40 bags an acre to 80 bags.
Initially, she sold the flour to her neighbors and family, but as more people began buying it, she realized that she could expand her business by making snacks. She used her savings to purchase machines required for peeling, crushing, and drying the tubers, as well as equipment for making cookies, crackles, cakes, bread, chapati, and crisps.
Catherine was able to buy the machines at Sh6,500 from jua kali artisans. She also purchased a special drier for the crisps, which comes with a motorized machine for slicing them into smaller sizes. To preserve the Vitamin C in the potatoes, she puts the solar drier machine in a shade to prevent contamination.
Catherine uses high-quality sweet potatoes from her farm and trusted farmers to make her snacks delicious. She packs the crackles in different packets weighing between 25 grams to 150 grams, which go for Ksh10 and Ksh100 respectively. On a good day, she can make between Sh6,000 to Sh8,000 from the sale of cookies.