- Ndegwa didn't like the burnt, sticky groundnuts in much of Kenya, so he devised a way to roast them evenly and hygienically.
- He cobbled together inexpensive roasting and grinding equipment and he emphasises hygiene and quality. He makes peanut butter and honey peanut butter, too.
The love of groundnuts and low profits in sand transport drove Gilbert Ndegwa to start his own miniature processing plant turning out delicious nuts. And peanut butter.
Unhappy with burnt and sticky roasted groundnuts around the country, Ndegwa found a way to provide evenly cooked nuts in a hygienic environment.
The innovative businessman assembled his equipment in Ngei Estate in Nakuru West subcounty.
“We used to while away the time chewing nuts at Jua Lako where we packed our lorries waiting for orders to deliver sand and we always complained about how badly the nuts were selected, cooked and packed,” Ndegwa told the Star.
He was in the sand and transport business but didn't keep up with the times, with mobile technology and bigger and faster lorries. Then he was edged out.
“I was late in acquiring a mobile phone and by the time I realised it, other people had moved on from walking to the base at Jua Lako to make orders and were instead placing orders through calls or texts," Ndegwa said.
Then he tried his hand at farming but that failed due to bad weather, poor timing and lack of experience.
Then he thought of groundnuts, which he loved.
Having dealt with lorries and interacted with mechanics, Ndegwa bought a 20kg roasting drum, a3HP motor and other chains, belts and assorted equipment.
Ndegwa assembled an electric roaster and housing in which the roasting drum would spin. He welded a gas burner under the spinning drum to ensure even roasting and colour.
"A complete roasting machine like this would have cost me about Sh350 but I assembled my own for about a quarter of the price," he said.
Now Ndegwa roasts nuts in batches of 14kg. He supplies clubs in town, stocks some at his shop and the rest is bought by hawkers who sell it in Nakuru.
But he didn't stop at roasting and selling groundnuts.
Ndegwa realised value addition would earn him more money and appeal to those who could not chew. He invented another machine for grinding groundnuts and mixing them with honey, nettle root powder or pumpkin flour to enhance taste and value.
To assemble the grinder, he used a 5HP motor, an old tyre, levers, stands, jerks and an aluminium bucket into which the nuts are poured.
To convince customers of hygiene and quality, Ndegwa has been inviting small groups of people whenever he is processing peanut butter.
Nester Kamonje always believed water was used in making peanut butter and she was surprised to see groundnuts turned into thick liquid without any additive.
Ndegwa said his products are hygienically produced, taking visitors through the process of weighing, selecting, washing and drying before roasting.
Recognising the importance of groundnuts in improving nutrition, the European Union Market Access Upgrade Program (Markup) Kenya was launched in October last year to support competition and market access.
It is implemented by the UN Industrial Development Organization (Unido) in partnership with the government and private sector, Markup Kenya focuses on 12 counties.
“We are looking at increasing markets and food safety locally, regionally and internationally,” Maina Karuiru, Markup's Kenya national coordinator.
The programme covers French beans, snow peace, passion fruit, mangoes, macadamia nuts, chillies, herbs and spices.
The programme aims to empower women and young men.
And it's helping Ndegwa.
Ndegwa said his major challenge was the time spent making a small amount of peanut butter or roasting groundnuts because his machines were slow and required monitoring.
He also said the cost of raw materials was high because he was using groundnuts from Malawi that sell for Sh8,000 per 50kg bag.
“The locally produced groundnuts are not the best varieties, the grains are either too small or they involve a lot of work selecting, which also leads to wastage."
He said Markup is helping farmers improve quality and production.
Ndegwa urged the government and other agencies to also help improve groundnut production in Kenya since there was high unmet demand,
(Edited by V. Graham)