How can we manufacture or process anything in Kenya? Electricity is not cheap. The roads are not that good. Government regulation will stall you. Linkage to markets is not that simple either, since you always have to deal with this cartel or that cartel.
Don’t give up. There’s always something that can be done. The easiest way to get into manufacturing or processing is working with food. It’s actually a backdoor to get young Kenyans into agriculture – which you know requires quite the startup capital
You can learn the basics of processing almost any type of food on a “long” Sunday afternoon. Which is why it beggars belief to see our Government stop this knowledge from spreading in the name of fighting counterfeit products. It really makes you think, what are they up to?
One to process into either food or non-food products is tomatoes. Tomatoes are the most consumed vegetables or fruits (which is it?) in Kenya. We are not sure what percentage of that is value added tomato – probably less than 2%, 1%? Close to 30% of all tomatoes consumed in the world is processed in some way, according to the World Processing Tomato Council (WPTC). You can see there are plenty of opportunities, especially considering the short shelf life of tomatoes. Farmers and wholesalers are always eager to get it off their hands.
(Alongside this list, check out other resources about agriculture value addition in Kenya)
This is a list of products made from tomatoes, which require the least startup capital. They can be made from specialized machines or assortment of machines. You can package them in the way that fits your marketing goals – glass jar, plastic containers, aluminium containers, grease-proof paper, etc.
1. Fresh cut tomatoes
I’m 99% certain that you consume your tomatoes after chopping or slicing them. That’s pretty much how every Kenyan does it. But we don’t buy it in this form. Which is why “value addition.” Tomatoes can be cut by specialised machines. If you are reaching, you can use the hand-operated ones sold by hawkers for as little as sh.100. This activity obviously has a low barrier of entry but quality, freshness and price of your tomatoes are some ways to gain competitive advantage.
2. Dried tomatoes
You now remember how, back in primary school, we were taught how precolonial Africans preserved food by drying. It works for the tomato too. You can use a specialized dehydrator machine. You can also use the sun, which takes between 4-10 days. You have to slice them first. The tomatoes come off with a concentrated taste. And don’t worry, you can soak in warm water to get softness back.
A disclaimer: it takes around 10kg of tomatoes to make a kg of dried tomatoes. That’s weight loss, haha!
3. Tomato powder
Just as well, you can turn your dried tomato into powder. All you have to do is ground them. This is the ultimate way to preserve tomatoes. The powder can be used to make sauce, juice, soup and whatever other idea you can stumble upon.
4. Tomato paste
Yeah, tomato sauce is great. But tomato paste is even better. You can substitute fresh tomatoes before you cook or add-on as a flavor to cooked food. To make tomato paste, essentially, you have to cut and blend your tomatoes. After, you use a seive or strainer to refine your paste. You then heat the result to break things down further – you may flavor to your tastes (or customers taste). Once it’s cooled down, you package as you will decide.
5. Tomato juice
Entrepreneurs in Kenya are already selling this. Do you think you are detail-oriented enough to experiment with new flavors? The process is largely similar to making paste. Except, you aim to achieve more fluidity with the final tomato product. This is achieved by sieving your them further on heating or cooking.
These are the basics of processing tomatoes into the 5 value added products listed. If you narrow in on one, you can get further technical help online or by visiting institutions like KIRDI (Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute).